The Dark Side of Letting Insurance Payers Dictate Hepatitis C Treatment

Imagine that you have a disease and you have two choices of treatment. Both treatments are highly effective at treating your condition. Medication A has mild side effects. Medication B has lots of side effects including, fatigue, nausea, itching, insomnia, and weakness. Pretty much everyone who takes medication B has side effects. Medication A is a pill a day; medication B uses two pills in the morning and one at night, and sometimes additional pills are prescribed that must be taken twice daily. Medication B has the potential to interact with more drugs than medication A does. Which would you pick? I assume you'd pick medication A.

Your doctor would likely recommend medication A. Drug regimens with many side effects means that you are more likely to need assistance from your health care team, perhaps needing additional laboratory tests to monitor your safety. If your doctor has more patients on medication B, then your doctor's schedule will use appointment slots for side effect management, rather than for seeing other patients who also need to be treated.

So, it seems like medication A is the obvious choice. Unfortunately, for many people with hepatitis C, it isn't. In this case, medication A represents Gilead Sciences' Harvoni; medication B represents AbbVie's Viekira Pak or Technivie. Harvoni is not covered under all insurance plans, such as those using Express Scripts. In short, your doctor may want to treat you with Harvoni, but your insurance may not carry it on its drug formulary. Your hep C treatment may be limited to medication B.

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