The Ohio Department of Medicaid on Wednesday announced that it will begin paying for the treatment of patients with Hepatitis C at an earlier stage of the disease.
Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the department will cover care for individuals when they first develop the disease instead of waiting until it progresses further.
Hepatitis C, a liver disease, is spread when the blood of someone infected with the disease enters the body of a person who is not infected, most commonly by sharing needles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cases of Hepatitis C have seen a resurgence in Ohio in recent years due to the opioid epidemic. The number of cases in the state climbed 38 percent from 2014 to 2017, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Health. In 2014, there were 15,806 cases and by 2017, there were 21,882 cases. Nationwide, more than 3 million people have chronic Hepatitis C, according to the CDC.
“Individuals with opioid use disorder are the fastest growing population impacted by Hepatitis C,” Tom Betti, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Medicaid, said in a prepared statement. “In an effort to mitigate the harm caused by the opioid epidemic, the Ohio Department of Medicaid is changing policy to begin earlier therapy for individuals with chronic Hepatitis C. We have been studying this issue for some time and believe this action is the next appropriate step as part of Ohio’s response to the opioid crisis.”
The state currently pays for care for individuals who have a fibrosis score, or F-score, of F2, but will begin covering care for those with F0s. A fibrosis score reflects how much damage has been done to the liver, from low (F0) to high (F4).
“If we can treat this as soon as possible, we think that we can stop or mitigate the spread of this disease,” Betti said.
Before making the change, the Ohio Medicaid department reached out to all 50 states about their treatment of Hepatitis C. Of the 21 states that responded, 15 cover patients at F0, two at F2 and four at F3 and F4 levels, Betti said.
Ohio Medicaid Director Barbara Sears changed the covered fibrosis score from an F4 to an F2 last year.