Inslee unveils first-in-nation approach to eliminate hepatitis C in Washington by 2030

Duff France was living on the streets of Central Washington, struggling with substance use disorder and hepatitis C. “It was the worst time I’ve ever spent,” he said.

Through Apple Health (Medicaid), he was able to access medication to cure his hepatitis C, and services to help him find stable housing and employment. France was one of approximately 65,000 Washingtonians living with chronic hepatitis C, a virus that is the leading cause of liver cancer and a leading indication for liver transplants.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne disease in the United States and in Washington state. From 2012 through 2017, nearly 40,000 cases were newly reported in Washington, and hepatitis C reports state-wide have increased every year since 2012. Most people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, and the opioid public health crisis has made the problem worse.

Gov. Jay Inslee with Al Adinolfi, who had advanced liver disease from hepatitis C and was eventually cured in 2016. (Office of the Governor photo)

Fortunately, treatment is now available for opioid use, and in the past decade, advances in medicine have led to a drug that cures hepatitis C. The drug is costly, but hepatitis C-related hospitalizations cost Washington taxpayers and insurance carriers $114 million between 2010 and 2014.

Wiping out hepatitis C in Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee is aiming to eliminate hepatitis C in Washington state by 2030 as part of his ongoing efforts to build a healthier Washington. The governor issued a directive at Harborview Hepatitis and Liver Clinic that orders state agencies to work with local public health, tribal governments, and other partners to create and implement a statewide hepatitis C elimination plan.

“We have been advocating for a comprehensive response to the hepatitis C epidemic for more than 20 years,” said Michael Ninburg of Hepatitis Education Project. “Aligned with goals ratified by the World Health Organization’s 193 member countries, this innovative initiative will stop the spread of the disease and prevent thousands of premature deaths in Washington state.”

“Kaiser Permanente commends and thanks Governor Inslee and the Health Care Authority for taking bold steps toward eliminating chronic hepatitis C. Facilitating access to affordable treatment is the key to reducing the prevalence and spread. We look forward to partnering with Governor Inslee and his administration and bringing Kaiser Permanente’s research and clinical expertise to achieve the important goal of eliminating chronic hepatitis C in Washington,” David Grossman, MD, MPH, at Kaiser Permanente.

Inslee with Dr. John Scott of Harborview’s Hepatitis and Liver Clinic. (Office of the Governor photo)

The plan’s strategies will include:

  • The state Health Care Authority will lead a first-in-nation comprehensive procurement of hepatitis C medications purchased by state agencies (including the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Labor & Industries) to get the best prices possible from manufacturers and make sure the treatment is more readily available to all. The state pays for hepatitis C treatment for more than 4,000 people each year who are covered by state-purchased health care.
  • The state Department of Health (DOH) will lead a public-private partnership for the development of an elimination plan and convene a hepatitis C elimination coordinating committee. DOH will also bolster efforts to ensure those living with hepatitis C know their status and are connected to care and the cure, and to ensure those at risk have access to preventative services.
Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“The success of King County’s 5-year grant-funded Hepatitis C Test & Cure project shows that tremendous progress towards elimination of hepatitis C as a public health problem is possible when adequate resources are available,” Jeffrey S. Duchin, MD, Health Officer and Chief, Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section, Public Health — Seattle and King County.

“We are inspired and motivated by the governor’s commitment to expand access to hepatitis C treatment throughout Washington state. We look forward to new opportunities that will support our shared goal of hepatitis C elimination and the promotion of stronger and healthier communities,” said Tony Hillaire, Lummi Indian Business Council.

“I’m pleased that our state is leading on this important matter. It will save lives and save money,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, chair of Senate Health Care Committee.

Inslee announces plans to eliminate hepatitis c in Washington by 2030 at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. (Office of the Governor photo)

“Eliminating hepatitis C has been a goal of mine for years. I am pleased to stand shoulder to shoulder with the governor in support of the health transformation efforts of this plan as it strengthens our efforts to drive greater cost containment especially in expensive specialty drugs, administrative efficiencies and improved public health outreach to save lives,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, ranking member of Health and Long Term Care Committee.

“If the federal government can’t do it, it’s about time a state does what it can to not only take advantage of the HepC cure available and try to eliminate it, but also try to rein in pharmacy costs. I support the governor’s approach on this and look forward to working with him to make this happen for Washington,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, chair of House Health Care and Wellness Committee.

Read the governor’s directive here.

Watch a video of Duff France’s story prepared by the Washington State Health Care Authority.