Today’s hepatitis C virus treatments are a game changer. Oral direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), which were introduced in 2011, are effective, work in a few weeks or months, and have no major side effects.
But they come at a price -- a steep one.
A 2018 study found that a single pill of one hepatitis C drug cost $1,000. The total was $84,000 for its 12-week course of treatment. Another drug cost $23,600 per month. That's for treatment that could take 6 months to a year.
Of course, you won't pay that full amount if health insurance covers your prescription. But DAAs aren't always covered by insurance. And your co-pays could be hefty.
Whether or not you're insured, you may be able to get help to lower your out-of-pocket expenses.
How to Get Help With Costs
Before you start hepatitis C treatment, check with your insurer, whether it's a private company or Medicare. Find out what’s covered and what your co-payments will be.
When your doctor recommends a drug, ask about the cost. Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you can't afford your prescription. They may be able to find a lower-cost treatment, direct you to a less expensive place to buy it, or provide discount coupons.
If you still can’t afford your medication, or your insurer won't cover it, you can seek help in several ways.
Some drug companies, states, pharmacies, and nonprofit groups offer assistance programs. Drug discount cards may help, too. Clinical trials -- studies that test new drugs to see whether they're safe and effective -- are another possibility.
If one option doesn’t work out, try another. It may take time to find the resource that’s right for you.
Patient Assistance Programs
Drug companies' patient assistance programs help people afford medicine and medical supplies. If you meet the eligibility requirements, they may help you cover:
- Health insurance co-pays (what you pay out-of-pocket for a doctor visit or prescription)
- Deductibles (how much you must pay for health care before your insurance kicks in)
- Coinsurance (the percentage of costs you pay after you've met your deductible)
- Health insurance premiums
- Travel expenses for medical treatments
Check the website of the company that makes your medicine to see if you qualify for help. Among those that have assistance programs for hepatitis C drugs are:
- Bristol-Myers Squibb
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and RxAssist sites let you search for help from many drug companies at once.
You can apply for assistance on these group's websites or call their helplines. Some may request information like:
- Where you live
- How many people you live with
- Your household income
- Names of the drugs you’ve been prescribed
- Your health insurance or prescription coverage type
- Your doctor’s name and contact information
Any personal information you share is confidential.
Nonprofits and Pharmacies
About half the states in the U.S. offer drug assistance programs for low-income seniors and adults with disabilities. Visit Medicare.gov. to see if your state is among them.
You can also apply for assistance from nonprofit organizations to pay for your hepatitis C drugs. For example, PAN Foundation may provide $6,800 a year if funding is available. Other groups don't help directly but can point you to sources of assistance.
These are some of the nonprofit groups that offer assistance:
- Good Days
- HealthWell Foundation
- The Hepatitis C Association: Help4Hep
- Patient Access Network Foundation
- Patient Advocate Foundation Co-Pay Relief Program
- The Assistance Fund
- Patient Services, Inc.
Some pharmacies also help with co-pays or research ways for you to get financial help, including:
- Avella Specialty Pharmacy
- Curant Health
- Rx Outreach
Drug Discount Cards
Some organizations, including the American Liver Foundation and Hepatitis Foundation International, offer free drug discount cards. The cards may be a good option if you’re uninsured or underinsured. Even if you have insurance, you can get discounts on drugs your plan doesn't cover.
You don't even need to fill out an application to get one. All you have to do is print it out.
NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card. The American Liver Foundation offers a discount card through an organization called NeedyMeds. You can use it at any of 63,000 participating pharmacies, like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and local drugstores.
On the NeedyMeds website, you can also find information about other programs to help with health care costs.
Hepatitis Foundation International Health Savings Card. The average savings with this free drug discount card is 30%. But it may go up to 75%. You can use the card as your primary plan or for prescriptions your insurance plan doesn’t cover. More than 56,000 national and regional pharmacies accept it.
Ask your doctor whether a clinical trial of a hepatitis C drug might be right for you. You can search for trials near you on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
In a clinical trial, you get free treatment and care in exchange for helping scientists research new medications.