Hepatitis C drugs could drive up U.S. health costs by $10 billion a year

A new study concludes that the new class of drugs developed to treat hepatitis C could drive up healthcare costs by nearly $50 billion over the next five years.

Researchers affiliated with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the University of Pittsburgh created a micro-simulation based on the cost of treating 10,000 hepatitis C patients with the new category of drugs versus the old-line treatment of interferon, which hampers the progression of the disease rather than cures it. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study concluded that treating that cohort of patients would prevent 600 cases of cirrhosis, 310 cases of liver cancer, 60 liver transplants, and 550 liver-related deaths.

Altogether, the study concluded that the cost of using the drugs to treat hepatitis C patients would cost $65 billion over the next five years, while offsetting just $16 billion in existing costs.

The price tag for the drugs, which are primarily manufactured and distributed by pharmaceutical giant Gilead, have come under critcism (nearly $100,000 for a treatment regimen) as have the practices the company took to preserve its financial interests. The non-profit group Doctors Without Borders recently criticized Gilead for its generic distribution program to treat the disease in poorer countries, the Wall Street Journal reported. And some insurers will shift costs to patients to mitigate the expense of covering the drugs.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract 
- check out the Wall Street Journal article