The state of Delaware said Tuesday that it would phase in a new policy to treat all hepatitis C patients in its Medicaid program.

States have been under pressure from the Obama Administration and lawsuits — in Delaware's case, Harvard Law School's Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation had threatened litigation — to abandon money-saving policies that limited treatment with effective but costly new medications to the sickest patients.

More than three million Americans are estimated to be infected with hepatitis C, a bloodborne virus that may cause no symptoms for decades but is the leading cause of liver cancer and transplants.

Delaware, like New Jersey, has required evidence of signficant liver damage before approving treatment. Its new policy lifts severity restrictions by allowing patients to show their individual need for treatment. Delaware also dropped a requirement that patients abstain from substance abuse, bringing it in line with standard medical recommendations for treating and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Other changes will be phased in, with all hepatitis C-infected patients on Medicaid in Delaware automatically eligible for treatment effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The change was announced by the center at Harvard. A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services confirmed late Tuesday that the state was changing its policy but no announcement has been made.

A handful of other states have made similar policy changes. An advisory committee in Pennsylvania last month recommended that the state Medicaid program treat all patients as well; a decision has not been made.

- Don Sapatkin