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Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Stethoscope, for the Sunday centerpiece on Obamacare.

The state has identified a partner for its efforts to eradicate Hepatitis C in Louisiana through an innovative medication subscription model.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Department of Corrections will enter into a contract with Asegua Therapeutics LLC (a subsidiary of Gilead Sciences, Inc.) to make its antiviral medication available over the next five years to Hep C patients enrolled in Medicaid and people who are incarcerated.

Under the partnership, the state will receive an unlimited amount of the drug, which has an overall cure rate of 98 percent across all six main types of hepatitis C.

The state expects to have the contract in place by June 1, with the state’s Hepatitis C elimination plan to officially start July 1.

Hepatitis C is virtually curable, but the high costs of medication have made it unaffordable for thousands of Louisiana residents who are infected and rely on the state for health care coverage. The state has been able to cover only a fraction of patients on the state's Medicaid program and in prisons who have the deadly liver-damaging disease.

Under the proposal, which is being dubbed a "Netflix-style" subscription model, the state will take the money that it currently spends toward Hep C treatment in Medicaid and the prison system and pay that amount to Asegua for unlimited access to its generic medication over a five-year period.

“This is an important step forward on the path to eliminating the virus in Louisiana,” Gregg Alton, a representative for Asegua, said Tuesday.

Nearly 35,000 people in Louisiana's Medicaid program have the Hep C virus, which is spread through blood contamination and can lead to liver disease and cirrhosis. Because of the high cost of medication, which can run in the tens of thousands of dollars, just 384 Medicaid patients were treated for it last year. Another 4,000 prisoners have Hep C, and a similar fraction received medication in the past year.

The actual number of Louisiana residents living with the curable illness is likely thousands more – at least one LDH estimate put it at more than 70,000 residents.

LDH's goal is to treat more than 10,000 Medicaid-enrolled and incarcerated patients by 2021 and ultimately eliminate the disease through the use of the subscription model.

“The next step is to complete the contract between Asegua and our agency,” Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee said in a statement. “We were extremely pleased that three manufacturers offered proposals, with the plan submitted by Asegua offering us a clear path forward to offer a hepatitis C cure to our most vulnerable patients.”

Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections, said the partnership will help improve public safety.

“By curing these offenders, we are releasing healthier individuals to the communities, and we are protecting the public by further preventing the spread of the Hepatitis C epidemic into Louisiana’s towns and cities,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who worked for years as a hepatologists in the state’s charity hospital system, said years ago he and others set out to see how long it would take to treat all of the neediest existing patients who had the disease. Staying on trend with numbers that have received treatment in recent years, Cassidy said the full effort would take up to three decades, and that doesn’t account for any new patients.

“We’ve got a big problem with Hepatitis C in our state,” he said.

Cassidy said the effort ends up saving money over time – both in direct health care costs by preventing costlier treatments down the road and through making patients healthy enough again to become contributing taxpayers.

“You save money through direct medical care,” he said, calling the idea “fantastic for patients, families and society.”

Louisiana sought federal guidance to be able to move ahead with its proposal. Cassidy has joined with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, to propose a change on the federal level that would give states more flexibility to enter into similar cost-saving arrangements.

“These populations have been way left behind. I know from my experience working in the charity hospital system how many of these patients there are,” he said. “It’s not unique to Louisiana – they are all over the country.”

The proposed Patient Affordability, Value and Efficiency Act wouldn’t only apply to the Hep C treatment or the subscription model. Cassidy said he could see value in a “mortgage model” where costly treatments can be financed over time.

“As a senator, I’m trying to think about how we manage the cost of medications, still get the benefit from the innovation but make people healthier,” Cassidy said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.