Millions of Americans have hepatitis C, a chronic disease that ravages the liver and in some cases can be deadly. New drugs can cure the virus, but that’s only good news for some people.
Jeffrey Acocella and Dirk Stokes are two faces of hepatitis C.
“I felt very tired, fatigued,” explains Acocella.
Hep C, as it’s commonly called, spreads through contaminated body fluids.
“When I’m playing with my grandchildren and doing everything else, I’m always going, ‘Aw man I got to be careful, I don’t want to infect anybody,’” Stokes admits.
Treatment with new drugs is simple: one pill a day for eight to 12 weeks. Nearly 95 percent of people treated are cured with few or no side effects. But it’s not cheap; each pill costs $1,000, so treatment could run up to $84,000. Acocella’s health insurer said yes.
“I was like, couldn’t believe it. I was excited,” he said.
But for Stokes, the news was bad.
“They denied it; they said I wasn’t sick enough,” Stokes explains.
“It is frustrating,” admits Claudio Tuda, MD, Infectious Disease Specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
Dr. Tuda is an infectious disease specialist who treats both men.
“Health insurance is putting up a lot of barriers for the patients to access this medication,” Dr. Tuda explained.
Dr. Tuda believes if the price of the medication goes down it could wipe out the disease forever.
Stokes said, “If I get sick, what’s it going to cost you if I have to go to the hospital? And if you wait long enough and I need a liver transplant, how much does that cost?”
After just a few weeks, Acocella’s disease is now undetectable. Dr. Tuda says all baby boomers should be tested for hepatitis C because people who have it often don’t know they have it. The baby boomer generation could have been exposed to hep C from transfusions before testing existed or from dirty needles in the fifties and sixties when some doctors reused needles after heating them.