Dr. Gee - Brookings

Louisiana Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee takes part in a discussion at the Brookings Institution in Washington examining Louisiana's new Hepatitis C drug program for Medicaid patients and prisoners on Monday, July 22, 2019.

WASHINGTON — Louisiana's new subscription model for getting hepatitis C treatment to Medicaid patients and prisoners was the focus of a gathering Monday to see whether such an idea can be mirrored in other states.

“It was important to have a laser-focus on this issue and keep trying," Louisiana Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee said during the meeting at the Brookings Institution on Louisiana's nearly three-year path toward what's been dubbed a "Netflix-style" model for hepatitis C treatment.

Hepatitis C can be cured, 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.

Neeraj Sooda, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California who has researched the subscription model idea, said other states should consider replicating what Louisiana’s done to set up its program so they don't face similar delays.

“A lot of them don’t want to do anything because of the daunting timeline,” he said.

Hep C is the deadliest infectious disease in the country, killing more than 20,000 Americans each year.

“Louisiana’s trying to eliminate a disease. It’s a noble goal and ambitious," said Rekha Ramesh, executive director for public policy at pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences.

During the two-hour presentation focusing on Louisiana and whether the model could work for other places and services, Gee and other experts discussed the potential to apply the subscription proposal or some other innovative model to vaccines, insulin and other common medicines.

“I think assessing what states need and what the model will be is the first step," Ramesh said.

Gee said hundreds of people have already started the 12-week medication to cure Hep C since Louisiana's program was rolled out earlier this month. She said she personally met a woman who had been through childbirth twice with the disease and worried about complications or passing it along to her children.

“These are vulnerable populations," Gee said. “We have to think outside the box.”

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.