The Repercussions of Medicare's New Hepatitis C Push

Could Medicare's new hepatitis c screening coverage make a big difference to investors?

Jun 8, 2014 at 1:31PM

This week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, announced a big shift in health policy. CMS intends to cover screening for hepatitis C for members who fall into either of two buckets: those who are considered to be at high risk for the disease (those who injected illegal drugs or had a blood transfusion before 1992), and anyone born between 1945 and 1965. This could significantly increase the number of people diagnosed with hepatitis C in the United States at a time when major cures are finally hitting the market.

We're investors, so the big question for us is simple: Who benefits? What stocks are poised to profit from this big trend?

Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD) is the first name that comes to everyone's mind. After all, Gilead's drug Sovaldi, which is a single pill that is interferon-free for type 2 and 3 hepatitis C, sold $2.3 billion last quarter, its first full quarter on the market, shattering previous drug uptake records and almost doubling Gilead's top line year over year. What's more, physicians (off-label) can prescribe Sovaldi with Johnson & Johnson's (NYSE:JNJ) Olysio to create an interferon-free combination for type 1 hepatitis C. And with the nasty, flu-like symptoms interferon can cause, that's a big plus.

Of course, there are competitors coming to market as well -- AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) has a six-pill combination drug that is moving toward its final regulatory hurdles, while further back Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck have their own potential competitors pushing through trials and posting strong data as well. With the market to itself right now but looking increasingly crowded over the next few years, can Gilead make its billions off Sovaldi, or will competition reduce prices and profitability?

In the video below, from Where The Money Is, the Motley Fool's investing show, health care analysts Michael Douglass and David Williamson talk through the changes and investors' opportunity in this space.

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David Williamson owns shares of AbbVie, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson. Michael Douglass has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Gilead Sciences and Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of Gilead Sciences and Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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