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Senator Vitale

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 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 Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“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 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 high-risk populations, like 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,” added Senator Vitale.

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 committee with a vote of 6-0. It now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.

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