AMA Says Government, Payers Must Ensure Affordability of Hepatitis C Drugs

As the market for Hepatitis C treatments continues to grow, the American Medical Association is calling for the government and payers to do more to ensure new therapies are affordable.

As the market for Hepatitis C treatments continues to grow, the American Medical Association is calling for the government and payers to do more to ensure new therapies are affordable.

At its House of Delegates meeting Tuesday, the AMA approved a resolution which, among other things, pledges support for “negotiation for affordable pricing for HCV (Hepatitis C Virus) antiviral treatments between the government, insurance companies, and other third-party payers so that all Americans for whom HCV treatment would have a substantial proven benefit will be able to receive this treatment.”

In recent years, scientists have developed breakthrough drugs that have shown unprecedented success in fighting the infection. However, those drugs also have price tags that, in some cases, top out around $1,000 per day.

The matter has created controversy in many corners of the healthcare world. Last year, the US Senate’s Finance Committee launched an investigation into Gilead Pharmaceuticals’ HCV drug, Solvadi. In a letter to Gilead at the start of the investigation, the committee questioned whether the market could handle such high costs.

“Although Sovaldi has the potential to help people with HCV, at $1,000 per pill, its pricing has raised serious concerns about the extent to which the market for this drug is operating efficiently and rationally," the senators wrote.

The AMA also looked at the issue of Hepatitis C in the nation’s prisons. In its report to the Board of Delegates, the AMA’s science and technology reference committee said experts who had testified before the committee raised alarm about high rates of Hepatitis C infection in correctional facilities.

“In one state, 20-40% of incarcerated individuals are infected with Hepatitis C,” the report noted, without naming the state. A 2008 study estimated that the overall HCV infection rate among incarcerated people was between 12% and 31% nationwide.

In its resolution, the AMA noted that the issue could have ramifications both inside and outside of the prison system, since incarcerated patients whose infections go untreated could pose a public health risk once released from incarceration. The document names correctional physicians and physicians in other public health settings as “key stakeholders” in the development of HCV treatment guidelines.

The AMA called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health departments to develop and coordinate HCV infection education and prevention efforts. They asked that any prevention, screening, and treatment strategy be focused on achieving the greatest overall public health benefit. The group said it supports the CDC’s recent recommendation that birth-year-based screenings for Hepatitis C be adopted.