Steps to Access Hep C Treatment
If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C (HCV) and have not been treated, taking basic steps to access treatment has never been easier. Especially because of the new medications that are now available and with side effects being relatively mild.
If you do not have insurance you will definitely need it. Paying for healthcare appointments out of pocket is expensive, but paying for Hepatitis C medications is far more expensive. Healthcare.gov can be a helpful starting point for finding insurance.
Even with insurance, some companies may refuse to cover the high cost of these medications. But don’t lose hope. You can try appealing to both your insurance company and the drug company. People featured in our Turning Points share their story of being cured and had mentioned to us how they wrote to the drug companies who turned out to be pretty receptive to covering their treatment.
Finding a Hepatitis C Provider
The next step is finding a healthcare provider who treats hepatitis C. These are often medical doctors, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants working in the fields of family medicine, internal medicine, gastroenterology, infectious disease, hepatology, among other specialties. It may be helpful to see if your primary care provider treats HCV and if not ask for a referral to a provider who does. You can also call your insurance company and ask for a referral from them.
Understanding What Hepatitis C is
Before attending your initial appointment it can be helpful to understand the basics of Hepatitis C as a disease. Hepatitis C is a curable disease that is caused by a virus that attacks the liver causing inflammation. Hepatitis, literally just means inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis C is the name of the virus that causes this inflammation. It is important to understand Hepatitis C is not related or the same as Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B. If untreated hepatitis C can cause fibrosis of the liver (mild to moderate liver scarring), cirrhosis of the liver (severe liver scarring), cancer of the liver, liver failure, and death due to liver disease.
Preparing to Discuss your Symptoms
People with Hepatitis C often do not have symptoms until late stages of the disease. Symptoms of Hepatitis C can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Bleeding from the esophagus or stomach
- Dark urine
- Loss of appetite
- Pale or clay-colored stools
- You may also experience other Symptoms related or unrelated to Hepatitis C
Before meeting with your doctor it may be helpful to write down the symptoms if any that you have experienced. It may also be beneficial to have a list of all of your current medications you take before meeting with a hepatitis C provider.
What to Expect from Your Appointment
If this is your initial appointment with this healthcare provider it is extremely unlikely that they will write you a prescription that day. In your initial appointment your doctor will likely want to discuss:
Discussing how you got HCV- Providers often want ask how you got HCV so they know what your risk factor was and then they will likely make recommendations on how not to get re-infected.
The Condition of Your Liver- The Condition of your liver is going to be one of the main concerns of your physician. To assess the condition of your liver your healthcare provider will likely order several tests. These tests will likely include blood tests to assess liver function. Other tests may be ordered such as an ultrasound to assess if there is liver damage.
Your HCV viral load- Your healthcare provider will likely order a viral load test to assess the amount of the virus in your blood. Specifically it measures the number of copies of the virus in one milliliter of blood. Historically, this test was used to assess the chances of treatment success, however this is less important now that there are much more effective medications.
HCV genotype- Your healthcare provider will also want to know what genotype you have. A genotype is basically a classification for what class of the HCV virus you have. In the United States genotype 1 is the most common. Knowing what genotype you have helps your healthcare provider decide what is the best course of treatment (such as length of treatment and medication choice).
After the initial appointment your healthcare provider will likely schedule a second appointment to discuss the results. At this point, depending on the results of the medical tests hopefully your doctor will order medications. However, sometimes this does not happen due to specific medical circumstances such as the condition of your liver. Once your doctor does order medications understand there may be additional barriers with insurance so allow for a few weeks to a couple months before you actually start the medications.
Theodore wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Hepatitis C.