The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) recently announced that it will begin providing hepatitis C treatment to all veterans in the health system, regardless of the stage of the disease.

Previously, some medications were too costly to treat all but the sickest patients, but thanks to a boost in funding from Congress, the VA can now treat the 174,000 veterans with the condition.

“We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” stated Dr. David Shulkin, VA Under Secretary. “Additionally, if veterans are currently waiting on an appointment for community care through the Choice program, they can now turn to their local VA facility for this treatment or elect to continue to receive treatment through Choice.”

It is estimated that 200,000 veterans have Hepatitis C, including 174,000 enrolled in the VA health system. Hepatitis C is spread by shared needles or by contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and those most at risk include people who received a blood transplant or organ transplant before 1992, when widespread screening became available in the US.

Roughly 60 percent of veterans who have hepatitis C served during the Vietnam era.

Since 2014, VA has treated 42,000 hepatitis C patients with the medication Sofosbuvir. In fiscal 2015, the department designated $696 million, or 17 percent of its total pharmacy budget, for the drug. It expects to spend $1 billion for medications containing sofosbuvir in fiscal 2016.

California-based Gilead Sciences, the maker of Sofosbuvir, including brand names Sovaldi and Harvoni, has been accused of price-gouging by lawmakers.

The company had been charging the federal government up to $68,000 for a treatment regimen regimen that costs roughly $1,400 to create. As a result, public health officials, including the VA, could only afford to treat the most ill patients.

Raymond Schinazi, the person who led the scientific team that created Sofosbuvir, was a senior research career scientist who worked for the Va from the late 1980s until Feb.1 of 2016, when he retired from the VA.

Schinazi continues to work at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is director of the biochemical pharmacology lab. His research focuses on treatments for viruses including HIV, herpes, Dengue, and Zika.

In January, the FDA approved Zepatier, made by Merck, to also treat Hep. C. Merck executives recently said they priced the medication, “to broaden and accelerate access to treatment for patients covered in commercial or public plans, including our country’s veterans.”

“This is a good example of how government and industry can work together toward a shared goal in the best interests of public health – particularly for our veterans who are so deserving, “Merck chairman and CEO Kenneth Frazier stated.

A spokeswoman for Merck said it was too early to tell whether Zepatier will become the favored treatment within VA to treat hepatitis C, but that the company priced it appropriately to make sure it could be accessed by all veterans.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson gave praise to Merck and stated, “we are grateful to Congress and to pharmaceutical leaders like Merck that are committed to our veterans who have nobly served our nation.”

The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Source: Military Times