Sunday, December 7, 2014

Veterans Harder Hit By Hep C

At The Crossroads, Part 6: Veterans Harder Hit By Hep C
Rhode Island NPR Radio
December 5, 2014

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. At a hearing Wednesday, Dec. 3, Sanders wanted to know why new hepatitis C drugs cost so much and how the VA was going to pay for them.
Credit Screenshot of live stream of hearing

Dennis was a young Marine training at Camp Pendleton, ready to deploy.

“I was on my way over, I was in what they call staging,” said Dennis. “13, 16, 17 days, then send you over to Okinawa, then Vietnam. I got lucky.”

That is, if you call blowing a knee out lucky. It saved him from going to Vietnam. Soon after that, Dennis isn’t sure when or how, he got infected with the hepatitis C virus.

“I didn’t do any intravenous drugs or anything like that,” Dennis said. “My ex had it, I don’t know if I got it from her.”

Dennis is 63. He’s from Providence. He doesn’t want us to use his last name because of the stigma hepatitis C can carry. It’s a disease he’s been living with for decades. That’s partly because, until this year, his treatment options were pretty grim. But the years of hoping for something better to come along are over. Doctor Alexis Pappas gives Dennis the good news in an exam room at the Providence VA.

“So as you’ve probably heard in the news,” Pappas explained, “there’s a lot of new treatments for hepatitis c and the VA has all those available now for your genotype.”

Pappas tells Dennis she’ll start him on treatment right away. And chances are excellent that after 12 weeks he’ll be cured. But that cure comes at a price. One new hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, costs $84,000 dollars for a full course. The VA managed to negotiate that down to about $50,000 dollars.

But with more than 170,000 veterans living with hepatitis C, the price is still too high for strained budgets.
“So most of our veterans have been carrying disease for the past three, four decades,” said Promrat. “And now it’s the time when the full-blown manifestations of chronic liver injury come to light. And we’re now dealing with that, right now.”

Dealing, he says, with a ten-fold increase in the number of patients with liver cancer. Rising numbers of patients needing liver transplants. More veterans with cirrhosis and liver failure. All consequences of untreated hepatitis C.
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