Louisiana health official seeks to tap obscure federal law to lower hep C drug prices

Rebekah Gee, MD, Louisiana's health secretary, wants to use a federal patent law to access cheaper hepatitis C drugs, reports Kaiser Health News.

At present, Louisiana would have to pay $764 million to cover treatment for 35,000 uninsured and Medicaid-dependent state residents living with hepatitis C. The state has a $31.2 billion annual budget, with $3.6 billion allocated for healthcare. To pay for the hepatitis C treatments, Louisiana would have to use funds set aside for schools, public services and infrastructure programs, according to the report.

Dr. Gee is working with national health experts to write a proposal to HHS, asking the agency to help Louisiana purchase cheaper hepatitis C drugs by using a patent law from 1910 that allows the government to bypass certain products if its in the best interest of the general public.

Through the law, the government could contract with a generic supplier to offer cheaper alternatives to costly, patented antiviral drugs such as Gilead Science's Sovaldi and Harvoni. The government would have to pay the drugmaker a small compensation fee for developing the generic product.

If HHS approves Dr. Gee's proposal, the strategy could be used in all 50 states, according to KHN.

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