Congress can eradicate hepatitis C and reduce the deficit at the same time

STAT – By Neeraj Sood and Jagpreet Chhatwal July 14, 2023

Congress faces a historic opportunity to stamp out a disease that kills thousands of Americans each year and save billions of dollars to boot.

In March, the Biden administration proposed an initiative to eliminate hepatitis C in the United States — a plan that should make sense to both conservatives and progressives. With colleagues, we estimated that the initiative will avert 20,000 cases of cancer, 49,100 cases of diabetes, and 25,000 cases of chronic kidney disease over 10 years. It will save 24,000 lives.

The administration is asking for $12.3 billion over five years to fund the initiative: $7.2 billion in new money and $5.1 billion reallocated from other programs. Although this figure might initially give pause to deficit hawks, our analysis demonstrates that over 10 years, the savings in health care costs will reach $18.1 billion, with the federal government’s share amounting to $13.3 billion. Roll the impact out 20 years, and the health benefits will more than double and the costs savings will triple.

Of course, skeptics must be persuaded that all that up-front money can really eradicate such a pernicious disease. After all, highly effective pills — with a cure rate exceeding 95% — have been available for almost 10 years, but only 1 in 3 hepatitis C patients have been cured. As a result, more than 2 million Americans had chronic hepatitis C in 2020 and, and about 14,000 died from its complications.

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Image Credit: STAT publication