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Without insurance, hepatitis C patients must delay pricey treatment

High-priced drugs difficult to afford

Hepatitis C is an expensive health condition that only gets worse if treatment is delayed or postponed--and a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that a lack of insurance is the "only barrier" facing those unable to obtain treatment.

People with hepatitis C don't always present symptoms, so they often don't know they even have the condition. In fact, half of those screened in the study didn't realize they had hepatitis C until they received their test results. Individuals who test positive but lack health insurance or are underinsured cannot afford the expensive medications and treatments, which can top $350,000, Reuters reported.

"I think the message remains very strong that a lack of health insurance is going to be a major stumbling block" in treating hepatitis C, lead author Ivo Ditah, M.D., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters.

Pharmaceutical companies have developed more effective and better-tolerated drugs to treat hepatitis C, making the infection much more curable for the 3 million Americans who have it.

However, medications such as Sovaldi come with a hefty price tag and have been a bone of contention between insurers that push back against high costs and drug makers that want to prevent insurers from implementing cost-sharing measures on specialty drugs, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

"We see a lot of denials from insurance companies not to cover these medications. It's a huge problem," Ditah said.

That's in part because specialty drugs such as Sovaldi made up 32 percent of health plan drug spending last year. What's more, consumers enrolled in health insurance exchange plans are 59 percent more likely to use pricey specialty drugs than people with employer-based coverage.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the Reuters article

Related Articles:
Patient advocates, drug companies hope to block insurers from lowering drug costs
Insurers increase cost-sharing measures for specialty drugs
Insurers push back against docs' 'Rolls Royce' treatments
'60 Minutes' spotlights rising drug costs