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Senator Vitale

Requires Hospitals and Health Care Providers to Offer Testing to Certain High-Risk Patients

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale that would put New Jersey in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to test baby boomers for Hepatitis C was approved today by the Senate.

“Treatment that is so successful as to remove any trace of the disease now exists. But too often, individuals who have Hepatitis C are unaware until it is too late and the disease has progressed so far that a transplant is necessary,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “Early diagnosis is critical for treatment. That is why this life-saving legislation, allowing for the screening of the population that is at the highest risk for the disease, is so important and makes sense.”

The issue is close to Senator Vitale as his father passed away from complications due to Hepatitis C, a disease that he contracted through a tainted blood transfusion. The Senator notes that through this legislation, individuals will be diagnosed earlier, allowing for effective treatment to avoid liver damage, cirrhosis and even cancer.

The bill, S-1279, would require hospitals and health care professionals to offer individuals born between 1945 and 1965 with Hepatitis C testing. Hepatitis C is a liver disease that can lead to scarring of the liver or cirrhosis; eventually it can cause liver cancer, liver disease or liver failure. Those with the disease are often asymptomatic, allowing for the liver to be irrevocably damaged prior to diagnosis and treatment.

“For baby boomers, this low-cost testing will provide greater opportunity for successful treatment that could provide them with better quality of life,” added Senator Vitale. “The testing, which the CDC recommends for that entire generation, will save lives.”

Under the bill, health care professionals would be required to offer screening tests to all patients within the age range except those who are being treated for a life-threatening emergency, have been previously screened or offered to be screened for the disease, or who lack the capacity to consent to the screening. If the patient tests positive for Hepatitis C, the hospital or health care professional would be required to provide appropriate follow-up care or refer the patient to a professional who can provide follow up care.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, often through sharing of needles; although prior to the practice of screening of blood supplies in the United States starting in 1992, many individuals contracted the disease through blood transfusions and organ transplants. In fact, baby boomers are more than five times likely to be infected with Hepatitis C than any other adult due to lax screenings prior to the 90s. The CDC estimates 3.5 million (range 2.5 to 4.7 million) Americans are living with Hepatitis C according to a 2015 study, most of whom fall within this age range. In 2012, the CDC recommended all boomer-aged adults – those born between 1945 and 1965 – be tested for the disease.

The bill would require the Commissioner of Health to evaluate the impact of the bill with respect to the number of individuals screened and the number of individuals who have received care following a positive test. The CDC estimates that with universal testing more than 800,000 Hepatitis C cases would be diagnosed and more than 120,000 deaths prevented nationwide.

Governor Cuomo signed similar legislation in New York in October 2013.

The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 36-2. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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