State officials hope that in addition to eliminating hepatitis C the state will save money through the effort.

Share story

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a directive Friday that would coordinate state and local governments’ efforts to eradicate the hepatitis C virus by 2030.

Washington is the first state to try to eliminate the disease by having agencies, tribal governments, and other local public-health officials coordinate on a strategy that could also save the state money. Officials estimate there are 65,000 people living with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in Washington, a curable disease.

HCV is 10 times more infectious than HIV and is the leading cause of liver disease, liver cancer, and liver transplants. It kills more Americans than any other infectious disease: At least 20,000 deaths a year are caused by HCV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The approach we’re taking combines expanding prevention screening services with expanding access to Washingtonians to a cure,” Inslee said at a news conference at Harborview Medical Center, where he signed the directive.

The governor said the state wants to make sure anyone with the virus has an outcome like Alfonso Adinolfi. The 66-year-old was cured of hepatitis C, and Inslee said he can now ride his bike and build drum sets after receiving treatment at Harborview.

The number of people with the virus has climbed in recent years and is attributed in part to the opioid epidemic, say officials. Between 2012 and 2017 there was a 126 percent increase in HCV infections in Washington compared to the previous five-year period, according to numbers included in the state directive.

“The majority of Washingtonians who have hepatitis C don’t know it; we’ve got to make sure we raise awareness and we gotta make sure that at-risk populations particularly have education and preventative services and people that need testing get testing,” he said.

Inslee was joined by state officials, advocates and experts to announce a statewide effort to cure and eradicate the blood-borne disease. Among them were Michael Ninburg, executive director of the nonprofit Hepatitis Education Project; Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer and chief of communicable disease and epidemiology and immunization at Seattle — King County Public Health; Dr. John Scott, Harborview Medical Center HCV expert; and Jason McGill, health-policy adviser in the governor’s office.

Part of the plan includes buying drugs that cure the virus with less expense, by pulling together state departments with purchasing power for drugs, like the Department of Corrections and the Department of Social and Health Services. In 2016, medicine could cost a patient nearly $94,500.

“There are five different drugs on the market,” said McGill. “The point is there’s competition now — they are still too expensive, but with competition, we think we can drive a better deal.”

McGill said the state spends a lot on medication but would like to lower those prices to reinvest in outreach in order to help eliminate the disease. The state estimates $114 million in HCV-related hospitalization costs.

Ninburg, of the Hepatitis Education Project, said the plan has the potential to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

But until the state renegotiates its contracts at the end of this year it’s unclear how much will be saved, McGill said.