Recently, the New York Times reported on the United States Preventive Services Task Force’ recommendation that people over age 50 get a hepatitis C screen. Under the new Affordable Care Act soon to take effect in 2014, insurance companies will have to pay for hepatitis C screening without charge to patients. This recommendation of the task force grew out of the Centers for Disease Control’s advice that people born between 1945 and 1965 – the Boomers – get a one-time test to see if they are infected with the virus.
According to the Times, about 3/4 of the more than 3 million Americans with Hepatitis C are Boomers with about 15,000 Americans dying from complications of Hepatitis C every year. Most of these people were infected before blood-screening measures for hepatitis C were put in place in 1992. Many people acquired the virus through unscreened blood transfusions or through the use of injectable IV drugs.
It was thought that screening all people of this age bracket would be more effective than just those at risk – those who had received blood transfusions and those who had used IV drugs. Many people, the health panel felt, don’t remember risky behavior or don’t want to tell their doctor about it.
Hepatitis C can go undetected for years as it has few if any symptoms. Yet, the current treatment for hepatitis C – alpha interferon – can be hard to endure for many and the treatment is often abandoned.
New drugs manufactured by Merck and Vertex Pharmaceuticals have increased the cure rates for Hepatitis C. Other companies, like Gilead Sciences and AbbVie, are hurrying to bring newer hepatitis C drugs to the market that would do away with the harsh weekly injection of alpha interferon.
In June 2013, New York State passed the first state bill that would require all hospitals and healthcare providers to offer hepatitis C screening.