Louisiana plans to launch a new program to give more Medicaid patients access to a life saving Hepatitis C treatment they could not previously afford.
At Open Health Care Clinic, it’s the job of Meta Smith-Davis to educate others about their health, transmittable diseases, and how to make safe choices.
“I think it’s important that people realize your health, your overall health, including your sexual health, is as equally important as your heart health, as your lung health, as any other part of your health,” said Smith-Davis.
For her, it’s a personal mission. In 2001, doctors diagnosed Smith-Davis with hepatitis C; she was one of 90,000 people in Louisiana known to be living with the virus.
Hep C is extremely contagious and spreads through blood to blood contact, such as needle sharing, sexual contact, and more rarely, blood transfusions. The virus attacks the liver, leading to liver damage, liver cancer, or even death. It’s sometimes called the silent killer, because symptoms often don’t emerge until the disease has advanced.
“The longer you have damage, or untreated disease, the worse your symptoms, side effects, and things like that can become,” explained family medicine physician, Dr. Byron Jackson.
However, there is a cure for the virus in the form of a pill taken once a day for 12 weeks. Unfortunately, the medication is expensive, costing up to $84,000 for a full course of treatment in some cases.
“We don’t have a cure for the common cold, we don’t have a cure for HIV, but we have a cure for hep C,” said Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee. “But when it came it out, it was the price of a Bentley. You think about a state like Louisiana, with the budget we have, we can’t afford a Bentley for everyone who has this disease, not all 90,000.”
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