Three drug companies are interested in Louisiana's plan to use a Netflix-style subscription model to buy access to hepatitis C drugs for Medicaid patients and prisoners, a treatment concept being watched by other states, the state health department announced Friday.

Health Secretary Rebekah Gee wants Louisiana to pay a fee to a drug manufacturer for unlimited access to its hepatitis C medication. The state will treat as many people as it can during the access period, rather than pay a per-patient treatment price.

Louisiana's plan could be a test case for treating a disease whose medication costs have been prohibitively expensive for some states. Gee has said several other states have indicated they want to mirror the subscription concept if Louisiana is successful.

"This is a groundbreaking model for drug pricing and access to medications," Gee said in a statement.

The Department of Health said AbbVie, Gilead subsidiary Asegua Therapeutics and Merck have responded to the bid solicitation. The department didn't release the proposals, citing confidentiality during the bid process.

The 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. But the cost of treatment is high. Gee has said a course of the medication costs about $20,000 to $30,000.

Louisiana has an estimated 39,000 people with hepatitis C on Medicaid or in prison, relying on the state for care. The health department said fewer than 3 percent of those on Medicaid and only a handful of people in prison were treated last year, because the state restricts who receives medication to the most severe cases.

To treat and effectively cure everyone in the state's care with hepatitis C under the traditional per-patient price would carry a cost around $760 million, according to estimates previously released by the health department.

Instead, Louisiana spends about $35 million on hepatitis C treatment annually.

State officials plan to pick a contractor for the subscription model by mid-April and start the deal when the new budget year begins July 1. They're seeking unlimited access to hepatitis C treatment for five years, without spending any more money annually than the current level.

"We are very pleased with this level of interest and we are looking forward to working with at least one partner to help us end the hepatitis C epidemic in Louisiana," Gee said.

The health department said its goal with the subscription model is to treat all hepatitis C patients in the Medicaid and prison populations by the end of 2020. Gee said she hopes the idea could eventually apply to other treatment types, such as for addiction or cancer.

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