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During a news conference in the Statehouse, Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, speaks about how the Governor's cuts to FamilyCare will block thousands of New Jersey resident from accessing affordable, quality primary care.

Senate Health Committee Advances Legislation to Require Hospitals and Health Care Providers to Offer Testing to Certain High-Risk Patients

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Richard J. Codey that would put New Jersey in line with CDC recommendations to test baby boomers for Hepatitis C was approved today by the State Senate.

“I have seen firsthand the effects that Hepatitis C can have on an individual and their family,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “If a patient is screened and made aware of the disease earlier, they can have a real shot at treatment, often so successful as to remove any trace of the disease.  Real lives can be saved with this legislation.”

The issue is close to Senator Vitale’s heart 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-876, would require hospitals and health care professionals to provide individuals born between 1945 and 1965 with a Hepatitis C screening. 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 irrevocable damaged prior to diagnosis and treatment.

“Hepatitis C is one of those diseases that many individuals have without knowing it until it has advanced to an irrevocable stage,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex and Morris. “For high-risk patients, such as those within the Baby Boomer generation, testing will provide insight into their health and allow them to work with health care professionals to determine a treatment plan that could provide them with life-saving medical care.”

Under the bill, health care professionals would be required to offer screenings 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 75 percent of the 2.7 to 3.9 million Americans living with Hepatitis C 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 of 2013.

The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 21-14. It now heads to the General Assembly for further consideration.

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