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Hepatitis C Drugs Not Available For Poor People In Puerto Rico, But They Are Available Here

SAN JUAN — Drugs that can cure hepatitis C revolutionized care for millions of Americans living with the deadly liver infection.

The drugs came with a steep price tag—one that prompted state Medicaid programss to initially limit access to the medications to only the sickest patients. That eased, however, in many states as new drugs were introduced and the prices declined.

Although the drugs are not available in Puerto Rico, they are available to Medicaid patients here.

“We treat Hepatitis C at Frederiksted Health Care,” said Leslie Raymer of
the Division of Social & Community Programs at Frederiksted Health Care. “And can provide medications free of charge.”

The joint federal-territory healthcare program for the poor—which covers about half of Puerto Rico’s population—does not pay for hepatitis C medications. They also do not cover liver transplants, a procedure patients need if the virus causes the organ to fail.

The Puerto Rico Department of Health created a separate pilot project in 2015 to provide hepatitis C medications to those sickened by the liver infection who also have HIV, but expanded the program later to those with only hepatitis C.

However, according to the Office of Patient Legal Services, an official territorial agency that advocates for consumers, the program ran out of funding and is no longer accepting patients only with hepatitis C.

The Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration (ASES), which oversees Medicaid, says it is working with a pharmaceutical company to create a cost-effective system to provide these medications.

“Definitely, they need to be given coverage,” ASES director Angela Ávila Marrero says. “They need to be given care.”

The U.S. Department of Health declined to comment.

Hepatitis C, a blood-borne infection, increases the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death. Poor screening led many to contract the disease through tainted blood and organ transplants through the early 1990s.

To contact Frederiksted Health Care please call (340) 772-0260.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

1 Comment

  1. January 15, 2019 at 8:45 AM — Reply

    We treat Hepatitis C at Frederiksted Health Care, and can provide medications free of charge. Please print this correction.

    Leslie Raymer
    Division of Social & Community Programs
    Frederiksted Health Care

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