Large gaps in treatment persist nearly a decade after a highly effective cure for hepatitis C was approved, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this week.

According to the CDC Vital Signs report:

  • Fewer than 1 in 3 people with health insurance get direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment for hepatitis C within a year of diagnosis.
  • People with Medicaid were 46 percent less likely to receive treatment than those with private insurance.
  • Treatment is lowest among patients in state-administered Medicaid plans, with less than 1 in 4 Medicaid recipients (23 percent) being treated within a year of diagnosis.
  • Additionally, Medicaid recipients in states that restrict access to hepatitis C treatment are 23 percent less likely to receive treatment than Medicaid recipients in states without restrictions.

Hepatitis C is curable with well-tolerated, oral medication. Left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver disease, liver cancer, and death. The CDC reports that in 2019, hepatitis C contributed to the deaths of more than 14,000 people in the United States. Deaths associated with hepatitis C were higher for Black people (5 per 100,000) and Hispanic people (4 per 100,000) than for white people (3 per 100,000).

“Everyone with hepatitis C should have access to lifesaving treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, age or insurance status,” said CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., in an announcement. “What these data tell us is that at best, only one in three people are treated within a year of being diagnosed and we must reduce the barriers and get more people treated for hepatitis C in our country. This is critical to stop preventable deaths and prevent new infections.”

To ensure people diagnosed with hepatitis C are treated, the CDC recommends health care providers, insurers, policy makers, and public health professionals:

  • Remove eligibility restrictions and preauthorization requirements that make it difficult for people with hepatitis C to access treatment that will cure the infection.
  • Provide treatment where people already receive services, such as primary care offices, community clinics, syringe services programs, substance use treatment centers, and correctional facilities
  • Provide treatment in as few visits as possible
  • Expand the number of primary care providers treating hepatitis C