Hepatitis C Legislative Awareness Day In Albany

sign 1Over 200,000 New Yorkers are living with the hepatitis C virus and most do not know their status even though new medications can cure most people with chronic infection. In response to this neglected and urgent health issue, the largest hepatitis C legislative awareness day yet was held in Albany on March 13th with participation from about 150 New Yorkers living with hepatitis C, service providers and allies.

After a morning briefing for elected officials and their staff on critical hepatitis C prevention, testing, care and treatment issues, we met with individual legislators in the afternoon followed by a march to Governor Cuomo’s office in the Capitol, where we sung hymns and called for scaled up action to address the epidemic. View photos from the day here.

Special thanks to the following elected officials who participated in the morning legislative briefing: Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski, Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon, Senate Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Committee Chair Phil Boyle, Senate Aging Committee Chair Eric Adams, Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, Assembly Aging Committee Chair Joan Millman, Assembly Mental Health Committee Chair Aileen Gunther and Assembly Member David Weprin.

Our policy goals for the day included (full platform available here):

Restoration of $12 million in proposed cuts to the Department of Health AIDS Institute, which is responsible for overseeing hepatitis C programs, and transparency in funding allocations in the final FY14 budget.  Governor Cuomo proposed the cut, although both the Assembly and Senate budget bills would restore funding and transparency.

Passage of a statewide hepatitis C testing law to help more New Yorkers living with hepatitis C learn their status, with a focus on baby boomers and people with a history of injection drug use. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued a recommended last year that everyone born between 1945 – 1965, also known as baby boomers, be tested for hepatitis C.

Preserving access to hepatitis C treatment by prohibiting Medicaid managed care plans from requiring patients to use mail order pharmacies.  Mandatory mail order pharmacy programs impede patient-pharmacist relationships and can disrupt and delay access to lifesaving hepatitis C medication for patients, leading to poorer health outcomes and greater costs in the long term.

Ensuring patients in opioid treatment programs (i.e. methadone clinics) have access to hepatitis C testing, treatment and care through better oversight by the NYS Office of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).  Hepatitis C is a leading cause of death in OASAS-funded programs.

Preserving access to hepatitis C treatment by prohibiting Medicaid managed care plans from requiring patients to use mail order pharmacies.  Mandatory mail order pharmacy programs impede patient-pharmacist relationships and can disrupt and delay access to lifesaving hepatitis C medication for patients, leading to poorer health outcomes and greater costs in the long term.

Ensuring patients in opioid treatment programs (i.e. methadone clinics) have access to hepatitis C testing, treatment and care through better oversight by the NYS Office of Alcohol & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).  Hepatitis C is a leading cause of death in OASAS-funded programs.

Thank you to the following organizations who participated: Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM), CitiWide Harm Reduction, FROST’D, Harm Reduction Coalition, Harlem United, Housing Works, NY Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE), Hepatitis C Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Pharmacists Society of the State of New York and Washington Heights CORNER Project.

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