(HealthDay News) — More than 2 million people in the United States have hepatitis C, but most are not getting the safe treatment that can cure the disease, according to research published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“Tens of thousands of Americans with hepatitis C are getting liver cancer, suffering liver failure, or dying because they can’t access lifesaving medicine,” Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDC National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in an agency news release. “In our nation, no one should have to live knowing a cure for their potentially deadly disease is available, but out of reach.”

More than 14,800 Americans died in 2020 from conditions associated with hepatitis C. An announcement about the new CDC report described the number of people cured of known hepatitis C infections as “jarringly low.” This was true across all age and insurance groups. The rate was especially low among those without health insurance or with Medicaid coverage.

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While adults under age 40 had the highest rates of new infections, they were also least likely to get the highly effective medication. Although cure rates were highest in patients who were 60 and up with Medicare or commercial insurance, fewer than half of them received the treatment.

Barriers to treatment include cost, restrictive treatment coverage policies, and challenges diagnosing the condition, the CDC said. The medication can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The CDC said an innovative national delivery model would make hepatitis C treatment attainable for all. The CDC said the White House has requested substantial funding to make this happen, potentially saving billions in health care costs within 10 years.

Currently, some state Medicaid programs and commercial insurers have treatment restrictions that conflict with medical guidance, require prior authorization, and limit types of providers who can prescribe the treatment. Some of these policies require that patients already have severe liver damage before they can be treated or that they go months without alcohol or drugs, the CDC said.

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