Treating 5 percent of all patients living with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the United States would be both cheaper and more effective at reducing new cases than the current baseline approach for HCV care, suggests a new long-term analysis from the University of Southern California (USC), published in Health Affairs and reported by Imperial Valley News.

For the study, researchers from USC’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics compared extended cost estimates for a few alternative options to the current recommendation, which reserves drugs only for patients with the most advanced stages of the disease.

The first alternative analyzed was a “treat all” approach. According to researchers, this plan has the potential to drop new HCV cases down to just 1,400 over 50 years. The approach would also save up to $139 billion in HCV-related medical costs in the long run. However, study authors concede that this approach was “unrealistic” given the current short-term limits of health care funding.

Researchers then analyzed the “treat advanced only” approach. Researchers estimated that hep C cases under the approach would drop down to 103,000 over 50 years. This plan was also the most expensive, costing almost $100 billion per year, even after 25 years.

Last, USC scientists analyzed the effects of the “treat 5 percent” approach. That plan had the potential to reduce new hep C cases from today’s 2.7 million to 39,000 over 50 years. The plan would also allow hep C-related health care expenditures to drop below baseline cost within 20 years.

“We made a mistake with HIV by limiting access to treatment to just people who had AIDS, and we ended up with a virus that has been with us for decades,” said study author Dana Goldman, the director of the Shaeffer Center.

Researchers said short of a “treat all” approach (which would clearly have the most social benefit), the 5 percent baseline could be a good middle ground for doling out HCV care in the future.

To read the study abstract, click here.