It is worthwhile to give patients expensive new drugs that can cure their hepatitis C much earlier than some insurers are now willing to pay for them, according to a UC San Francisco study that models the effects of treating the disease early versus late in its development.
Researchers said they were surprised by the findings, since the drugs can cost up to $100,000 for a full course of treatment. But when they factored in the long-term medical cost of delaying treatment for hepatitis C, they found the savings, in combination with improvements in the quality of patients’ lives, were enough under current standards to justify using them even at early stages of liver fibrosis. Researchers said the drugs were therefore cost effective.
Cost effectiveness is a measure of broad social benefit that health economists use to make decisions about whether medical treatments are warranted. The researchers said the balance was tipped in favor of the drugs because the hepatitis C virus can cause so much damage. Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver cancer, liver transplants and liver-related death, yet the drugs can prevent much of that with an early cure. Moreover, even if costly hepatitis C treatments are delayed, they eventually will be given to many patients once the infection causes enough damage to their livers.