Changing Urban–Rural Disparities in the Utilization of Direct-Acting Antiviral Agents for Hepatitis C in U.S. Medicare Patients, 2014–2017

Published:November 19, 2020DOI:


      The advent of direct-acting antiviral agents for treating hepatitis C virus infection has made hepatitis C virus elimination possible. Rural patients with hepatitis C virus infection may be less likely to access direct-acting antiviral agents, but the real-world evidence is scarce on urban–rural disparities in direct-acting antiviral agent utilization.


      This retrospective cohort study was conducted in 2019–2020 using Medicare data to examine urban–rural disparities in direct-acting antiviral agent utilization among newly diagnosed patients with hepatitis C virus infection in 2014–2016. Direct-acting antiviral agent use was defined as filling ≥1 prescription for direct-acting antiviral agents during 2014–2017, and patient's urban–rural status was classified on the basis of their ZIP code of residence. This study evaluated the associations between multilevel factors and direct-acting antiviral agent use with a focus on urban–rural disparities. It also assessed changes over time in urban–rural disparities in direct-acting antiviral agent utilization using multivariable cause-specific Cox regression analyses with time-varying hazard ratios.


      Among 204,018 new patients with hepatitis C virus infection, about 30% received direct-acting antiviral agents during 2014–2017. Cumulative direct-acting antiviral agent use gradually increased over time in both urban and rural patients. However, the increase was greater in urban patients than in rural patients. In the first year of follow-up, rural patients had a similar rate of receiving direct-acting antiviral agents (adjusted hazard ratio=1.03, 95% CI=1.00, 1.07), but they were less likely to use direct-acting antiviral agents in later years than urban patients (adjusted hazard ratio=0.85, 95% CI=0.81, 0.90 in the second year, adjusted hazard ratio=0.82, 95% CI=0.76, 0.89 in the third year, and adjusted hazard ratio=0.76, 95% CI=0.64, 0.90 in the fourth year of follow-up).


      This study reveals important gaps in hepatitis C virus treatment and suggests increasing urban–rural disparities in direct-acting antiviral agent utilization. Enhancing direct-acting antiviral agent uptake in rural populations with hepatitis C virus infection will help reduce hepatitis C virus‒related health disparities and reach the national goal of eliminating hepatitis C virus infection.
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