There are other implications of delaying treatment until liver damage is advanced. Once a patient has developed cirrhosis, he'll need to be monitored every six months for the rest of his life for signs of liver cancer.
And if a patient tips into liver failure or cancer before getting cured, treatment will cost an estimated $50,000 a year - possibly over several years.
"Hepatitis-C is a ticking time bomb," Graham says. "We have a very limited amount of time to get in here and alter the course of the disease for a good number of people. And we either do that, and we do it well now, or we face a whole lot more people suffering severe complications of this disease."
While the cost and treatment implications get sorted out, patients like Walter Bianco are in an agonizing limbo. He says he can't possibly afford the $150,000 it would cost to buy Sovaldi and Olysio on his own.
"It is a lot of money and there are a lot of hep-C sufferers out there," he says. "I think Medicare's probably thinking 'If we can hold off for a year or two, some of these following drugs will be cheaper.'"
But Hugo Vargas, Bianco's doctor, says it's urgent to cure his infection now. "If he were my father," the Mayo specialist says, "I would want Mr. Bianco to be treated now - not in a year, not in a year-and-a-half."
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Fri, May 09 2014