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CDC: Less than 1 in 3 people with health insurance get hepatitis C treatment within year of diagnosis

MIAMI – It's estimated more than 2 million people in the United States are living with hepatitis C. Now, new government data shows many patients are not getting treatment for the deadly, but curable infection.

It's been nearly a decade since breakthrough treatment for hepatitis C became available in the United States. A new report from the CDC shows less than one in three people with health insurance get the antiviral treatment within a year of being diagnosed. 

Dr. Carolyn Wester, director of CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis, said, "It can cure more than 95% of people who take it with just 8 to 12 weeks of oral only treatment."

Without treatment, hepatitis C can lead to advanced liver disease, liver cancer and even death. Experts say insurance restrictions may be part of the reason for low treatment rates. Treatment can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Dr. Wester said, "We need to remove eligibility restrictions, burdensome prior authorization requirements, and ensure that individuals with 'hep C' are accessing treatment in the settings where they receive care, like primary care offices and substance use disorder treatment centers."

New hepatitis C infections are increasing due to rising rates of injection drug use in the nation's opioid crisis.  The new report shows treatment rates are lowest among adults under 40.  

"These treatment levels are particularly concerning because this group is the same group that we're seeing the highest rates of new infections," said Dr. Wester.

The CDC says making sure everyone has access to treatment is critical for a person's health and to prevent new infections.  

It's estimated about 40% of people who have hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. The CDC recommends every adult get tested for hepatitis C at least once in their lifetime.

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