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New hepatitis C drugs cost government $4.5B

The federal government spent a whopping $4.5 billion on costly new drugs to cure hepatitis C among Medicare patients last year, a steep price that is likely to keep growing, federal records show.

Spending on the super-selling drugs, which can cost $1,000 a day, increased more than 15 times compared to the previous year, according to a report Monday by ProPublica.

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The treatments are covered under Medicare’s nine-year-old prescription drug program, known as Part D. The brunt of the costs will be shouldered by taxpayers, though patients also pay a monthly premium.

The government also spent about $1.2 billion on the new drugs for Medicaid patients in the first nine months of 2014, with some data still unavailable.

Eligibility for the low-income Medicaid program was generally more restrictive than Medicare, and required patients to have advanced liver disease before their treatment would be covered. Many private insurance companies have adopted similar policies.

One of the most commonly used hepatitis C treatments, Sovaldi, has been considered a breakthrough since it was first approved in December 2013. It costs about $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment.

Before the drug, most hepatitis C treatments took nearly a year and came with severe side effects, with varying degrees of curability.

Before 2014, the government spent under $300 million to treat Medicare patients with hepatitis C.