– The Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week approved House Bill 59
authored by Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter), chairman of the House Health Committee, that would require physicians to offer hepatitis C screening to patients born between 1945 and 1965.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. It is one of the more common blood-borne infections in the United States, with an estimated 4 million individuals infected. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and the leading cause of liver transplants.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hepatitis C is most prevalent in the Baby Boomer generation. In 2012, the CDC released guidelines recommending those born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C.
“This is an important health screening the federal government recommends certain at-risk populations undergo,” said Baker. “Hepatitis C is a serious disease that, left untreated, can prove fatal. The problem is that many people may not even realize they have the disease and may never be offered screening for it. My legislation would help ensure doctors have a conversation with their patients who fall into a certain age category, and offer them the screening.”
Hepatitis C is estimated to affect approximately 3.2 million people, with half of those individuals being undiagnosed. Baby Boomers comprise 75 percent of all cases of hepatitis C in the United States. Many individuals were infected because the nation’s blood supply was not screened for hepatitis C until 1992.
“If it is determined a patient tests positive for hepatitis C, he or she would then be offered follow-up health care,” said Baker. “Treatment today can vastly improve a person’s quality of life and result in better health outcomes, including being cured of the disease.”
Baker noted that actively screening for hepatitis C, as opposed to waiting for symptoms and more serious diseases to arise from having the disease, will also result in major cost savings for taxpayers. In fact, the estimated medical costs associated with treating Baby Boomers with hepatitis C, many of whom will age into the Medicare system at age 65, will rise from $30 billion in 2009 to $85 billion annually by 2024.
“This is a health care issue that is simple to address through greater awareness and access to screenings,” said Baker. “By requiring doctors and hospitals to offer screenings, we can help more people who may have unknowingly contracted the disease. We can also help all taxpayers by proactively screening, treating and even curing the disease before health care complications and costs escalate.”
Baker said similar legislation has been enacted in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Colorado.
The state House of Representatives unanimously approved this same legislation last year, but it was not considered by the Senate prior to the end of session.
House Bill 59 has the support of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute (PFESI), Caring Ambassadors Program Inc., Hepatitis B Foundation, AIDS Institute, National Virus Hepatitis Roundtable, Hepatitis Foundation International, AARP PA, Harm Reduction Coalition; Hispanic Federation; Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute and OraSure Technologies Inc.
Representative Matthew Baker
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman