Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver that can be cured with treatment.

But while medications are extremely effective at treating hepatitis C, they come at a high cost. Research has shown that a course of hepatitis C treatment can come with a five-figure price tag, depending on the drug.

However, skipping treatment for hepatitis C may actually end up being even more costly for both your wallet and your quality of life. The condition can lead to serious liver damage and put you at risk of other conditions, all of which can be expensive to manage and interfere with your ability to work.

Here’s the true cost of not treating hepatitis C, along with ways to bring down the price of treatment for the disease.

The first 6 months of a hepatitis C infection are called the acute phase of the condition. Your immune system wants to fight the infection and may clear it on its own, although there may be benefits to using medication at this stage.

Untreated hepatitis C beyond that initial 6-month period is labeled as chronic. This means that you likely need treatment to clear the infection. Without treatment, hepatitis C can harm your liver and cause severe and long lasting symptoms. And the cost of care can go up over time.

A 2018 study found that using direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs to treat hepatitis C during its acute phase, rather than waiting until the chronic phase, led to better outcomes and proved cost-effective, sometimes even reducing the overall healthcare costs for individuals.

Plus, curing the disease as early as possible can help you avoid other expensive complications down the road.

Many people live with hepatitis C for months or years before receiving a diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean you should delay treatment. The longer you live with hepatitis C, the more costly damage it can do to your body, so try to start treatment as soon as you can.

Long-term hepatitis C infections can result in:

  • cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver
  • liver cancer
  • end-stage liver disease (when the liver stops working)

These conditions can come with considerable healthcare costs. A 2020 systematic review found that the medical costs associated with cirrhosis related to hepatitis C ranged from $5,162 to more than $63,000 per person per year.

It also found that the annual cost of treating liver cancer could total more than $110,000 and a liver transplant could range from $20,127 to a staggering $578,758, with thousands of dollars in other healthcare maintenance costs in the years after receiving the organ.

More importantly, though, these serious liver conditions can significantly compromise your quality of life and become deadly. Treating hepatitis C as early as possible could help prevent severe liver damage, reduce the risk of more extreme healthcare costs, and potentially save your life.

Hepatitis C doesn’t only damage your liver — it can compromise your overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis C can cause:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • glomerulonephritis (inflammation in the filtering part of the kidneys)
  • essential mixed cryoglobulinemia (a rare disorder that causes abnormal proteins in the blood)
  • porphyria cutanea tarda (a condition that causes painful blisters when skin is exposed the sun)
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a type of blood cancer)

Each of these conditions can increase the costs of your healthcare and put your overall health at serious risk of harm.

Hepatitis C can make a significant impact on your quality of life, including your ability to earn a paycheck.

An older study from 2010, which looked at attendance records from more than 399,000 workers, found that those with chronic hepatitis C lost significantly more workdays than those without the disease.

These absences included sick leave, short-term disability, and long-term disability. Workers with hepatitis C also experienced lower rates of productivity on the job.

These absences reduce productivity and could lead to a lower paycheck or even job loss, depending on your job, employer, and your company’s benefits and policies. Treating hepatitis C can help reduce the disease’s impact on your career.

Treating hepatitis C typically involves taking an oral medication for 8 to 12 weeks. Treatment cures the disease in more than 90 percent of cases, according to the CDC.

However, the cost of hepatitis C treatment can be staggering. Research from 2018 found that a course of DAA medications for hepatitis C could cost between $40,000 and $100,000.

Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily what you’ll spend on treatment. If you have health insurance, your policy may cover some or all of the cost of the medication.

But if you don’t have health insurance or you’re denied coverage, you may be able to seek out other forms of financial assistance to cover the cost of hepatitis C treatment. Some drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies offer financial assistance programs to eligible people with hepatitis C.

You can also reach out to liver- and hepatitis-focused foundations, such as the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, for information on reducing the cost of treatment. The American Liver Foundation offers a prescription drug discount card accepted at more than 63,000 pharmacies, as well.

Even though hepatitis C treatment can be expensive, the costs may be significantly less than what you may incur if the disease causes long-term damage to your health. Talk with your doctor or other members of your care team about other ways to potentially make your treatment more affordable.

The cost of hepatitis C treatment can come with serious sticker shock, but delaying treatment can be even more costly for your physical and financial health, as well as your quality of life.

Many people live with hepatitis C for years before finding out they have it, but it’s important to start treatment quickly after receiving the diagnosis. Getting rid of the virus from your body can help you avoid serious liver damage and other health issues, which can be expensive to treat and potentially deadly.

Talk with your doctor about hepatitis C treatment so you can clear your body of the virus and avoid long-term health complications. If you’re having trouble paying for medications, financial assistance may be available through hepatitis C organizations and pharmaceutical companies.