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Free hepatitis C screenings at 10 Louisiana Walmart stores

December 10, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee answers questions from the joint House and Senate budget committee about new contract awards for the Medicaid managed care program in Baton Rouge, La. As Louisiana broadens its efforts to combat hepatitis C in hopes of largely eliminating the deadly viral infection, the state health department announced Tuesday, Dec. 10 that 10 Walmart locations around Louisiana will offer free screenings for the infectious, liver-damaging disease. Gee said Walmart is providing leadership that will help the State meet its ambitious goals of population-level screening and hepatitis C elimination. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019 file photo, Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee answers questions from the joint House and Senate budget committee about new contract awards for the Medicaid managed care program in Baton Rouge, La. As Louisiana broadens its efforts to combat hepatitis C in hopes of largely eliminating the deadly viral infection, the state health department announced Tuesday, Dec. 10 that 10 Walmart locations around Louisiana will offer free screenings for the infectious, liver-damaging disease. Gee said Walmart is providing leadership that will help the State meet its ambitious goals of population-level screening and hepatitis C elimination. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As Louisiana broadens its efforts to combat hepatitis C in hopes of largely eliminating the deadly viral infection, the health department announced Tuesday that 10 Walmart locations around the state will offer free screenings for the infectious, liver-damaging disease.

Walmart will offer the no-cost hepatitis C screenings every Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. until Feb. 1 at the pharmacies in stores located in Vivian, Ville Platte, New Iberia, Raceland, Oak Grove, Amite, Monroe, Denham Springs, Opelousas and Morgan City.

“We are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get screened for this virus and then get treated,” Health Secretary Rebekah Gee said during a news conference at the Livingston Parish Walmart store that will offer the free screenings.

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The screenings involve a finger-stick test. If the testing detects the presence of hepatitis C virus antibodies, the people will be referred to their primary care doctors or a local health care provider for further testing and possible treatment.

“With more than 90% of Americans living within 10 miles of a Walmart, we are an important part of the community and the daily lives of our customers,” Thomas Van Gilder, chief medical officer for Walmart U.S. Health and Wellness, said in a statement.

The health department recommends that every person in Louisiana get screened at least once for hepatitis C.

The screenings dovetail with the health department’s work to expand access to virus treatment for people in Louisiana’s Medicaid program and prisons.

For years, the state only offered treatment to the most severe cases, because the cost of the medication was so high, what Gee described as “the price of a car,” reaching up to $20,000 to $30,000 per patient. But under a new contract that started in July, Louisiana is using what it calls a “subscription model” approach with Gilead Sciences subsidiary Asegua Therapeutics.

The state is paying a flat fee — up to $58 million annually, with a portion covered by federal dollars — for unlimited access to hepatitis C medication for five years, and is able to treat as many people as it can, rather than pay a per-patient drug price.

When the contract was announced, Gee said Louisiana hopes to treat most of the estimated 39,000 Medicaid patients and prisoners with the disease by the end of 2024. The health department said2,290 people have received hepatitis C medicationsince the contract began, more than everyone Louisiana could afford to treat across all of the last budget year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hepatitis C, a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver failure and death, kills more Americans than any other infectious disease. While the CDC says intravenous drug use is the most common method of spreading the disease today, hepatitis C often was spread through the nation’s blood supply until 1992.

The medication Louisiana is using has a cure rate of 98% among hepatitis C patients, health officials said.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte