Associated Health Costs - United States

Although few prospective long-term survival and health care cost studies are available for hepatitis C, it has been possible to estimate the life-long economic impact of the disease for both the individual patient and for the U.S. population with chronic hepatitis B. Lifetime health care costs for a patient with chronic hepatitis B has been estimated at $65,000 in the absence of liver transplantation. For the 150,000 HBV carriers with significant liver damage, the lifetime health care costs in the U.S. have been estimated to be $9 billion. Assuming an estimated survival of 25 years, the annual health care costs for the affected U.S. population with chronic hepatitis B is $360 million. Based on the same economic analysis, treatment of chronic hepatitis B with interferon is projected to increase life expectancy by about three years and reduce the aggregate health care costs.

Hepatitis C can only represent a far greater economic cost. While it infects about 3 and a half more times as many people in the United States than does hepatitis B, more than 80% of hepatitis C patients will develop chronic liver disease, as compared to only 20% of hepatitis B patients. Limited data suggest that 15-20% of those with chronic hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis within a five-year period, and as many as 25% may have cirrhosis by 10-20 years. The risk of developing liver cancer is uncertain, but may approach or exceed 1% during the first 20 years of infection and increase thereafter. Hepatitis C is responsible for about one-third of all liver transplants in the United States.

Activist at Walk on Washington '98, trying to get increased research funding and political support for the fight against hepatitis C

Approximately 1,000 patients are transplanted each year for liver disease due to hepatitis C. With the cost per liver transplantation in the range of $280,000 for one year, liver transplantation for hepatitis C alone reaches a cost of nearly $300 million per year.

Moreover, the average lifetime cost for hepatitis C, in the absence of liver transplant, has been estimated to be about $100,000 for individual patients. Assuming that 80% of the 4.5 million Americans believed to be infected develop chronic liver disease, the total lifetime cost for this group (3.6 million) will be a staggering $360 billion in today's dollars. Assuming an estimated survival of 40 years, the annual health care costs for the affected U.S. population with chronic hepatitis C may be as high as $9 billion.