Background and objective: Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) is common in the inmate population of the United States. Long-standing HCV can progress to cirrhosis, which can contribute to significant morbidity and mortality. However, those inmates with histologically mild disease are unlikely to develop liver-related morbidity or mortality during their period of incarceration. Our objective was to develop an economic strategy for evaluation and treatment of inmates with chronic HCV.
Methods and measures: A retrospective cohort analysis of 302 inmates within the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) who underwent liver biopsy for chronic HCV at the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System between 1998 and 2002 was performed. The data from this analysis was to utilized to develop a cost model for treatment of chronic HCV in this population based upon biochemical or histologic criteria. We used the perspective of the VDOC using actual costs paid to providers, hospitals, and pharmacies. The primary endpoint was cost-effectiveness of HCV treatment.
Results: Eighty percent of inmates with chronic HCV were genotype 1, 49% had a normal value for serum ALT at the time of evaluation, 30% had no fibrosis, and 24% had bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis. The cost to evaluate and treat 100 consecutive inmates with peginterferon and ribavirin regardless of serum ALT and liver histology was calculated to be $1,775,900 or $35,500 per sustained virologic response (SVR). Although the cost declined by 50% if only those patients with an elevated serum ALT were treated, 45% of those inmates with varying degrees of fibrosis, and 21% with cirrhosis would not have received therapy utilizing this scenario. In contrast, the cost of performing liver biopsy and treating only those patients with any degree of fibrosis was $1,367,043; a savings of slightly more than $400,000 per 100 patients evaluated. The overall cost of treatment was most influenced by the price of peginterferon and ribavirin, which declined as the histologic criteria utilized for treatment increased.
Conclusions: A strategy in which inmates with chronic HCV are evaluated and a decision regarding treatment is based upon either biochemical or histologic criteria, which appears to balance both the health-care rights of the inmate and the impact of treating this disease on the financial and other resources of the correctional system.