I have been a hepatitis C patient advocate and activist for nearly 18 years. I thought that the approval of the newest hepatitis C treatment Harvoni would be a joyful celebration, but instead it felt like a devastating blow. On the heels of the announcement of a daily pill with mild side effects that can cure 93 to 97% of hepatitis C cases was this: countless stories from people seeking hepatitis C treatment, only to be denied by their insurance companies because they don’t have cirrhosis or stage 3 fibrosis.
How can they do this? Insurance companies have been misusing the AASLD treatment guidelines, which prioritizes who needs to be treated immediately. It’s like saying to someone with diabetes, “We will treat you when your diabetes has caused blindness or debilitating neuropathy, but not before.”
However, AASLD didn’t intend for these guidelines to interfere with hepatitis C treatment for people with earlier stages of fibrosis. In fact, AASLD issued a statement making it very clear that nearly everyone can be treated. In a press release on Oct 24, the AASLD stated, “The introductory statement of When and In Whom to Initiate Therapy has been revised to reiterate that treatment will benefit almost all patients in all stages of chronic infection and that urgent initiation of therapy is needed in patients with certain conditions.”
When you click on When and In Whom to Initiate Therapy, it takes you to this highlighted text at the top of their page:
“Successful hepatitis C treatment results in sustained virologic response (SVR), which is tantamount to virologic cure, and as such, is expected to benefit nearly all chronically infected persons. Evidence clearly supports treatment in all HCV-infected persons, except those with limited life expectancy (less than 12 months) due to non–liver-related comorbid conditions (See Unique Patient Populations). Urgent initiation of treatment is recommended for some patients, such as those with advanced fibrosis or compensated cirrhosis.”
Folks, for the first time in many years, I am feeling like we can live free of hepatitis C. The war isn’t over, but we are going to win this. And, although I am repeating last week’s quote, Winston Churchill’s words bear repeating, “Never, never, never give up.”