PR: New York Senate Passes Hepatitis C Testing Law

For Immediate Release: June 20,2013

Contact: Matt Curtis, 646-234-9062

New York Senate Passes First-In-Nation Hepatitis C Testing Law, Bill Now Goes to Governor Cuomo 

Over 200,000 New Yorkers Living With Hepatitis C, But Most Don’t Know Their Status; Bill Will Help People With Hepatitis C Learn Their Status & Access Care

Albany, NY – The New York Senate joined the Assembly in unanimously passing a first-in-the-nation bill that would require hospitals and health clinics to offer baby boomers a hepatitis C test.  By helping New Yorkers born between 1945 and 1965 (the age group with the highest infection rate) learn their hepatitis C status, the bill will help those with chronic infection access care and treatment.  The bill (S2750/A1286) was introduced by Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon and Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski.

“People deserve to know their hepatitis C status so they can take steps to protect their health,” said Diane Nunez, a VOCAL-NY leader living with hepatitis C from the Bronx.  “Hepatitis C doesn’t need to be a death sentence – many people living with hepatitis C can now be cured with new medication that’s available.  But people living with hepatitis C can only be cured if they know their status early enough, which is not happening under the current system.”

The bill is modeled on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and New York’s successful HIV testing law adopted in 2010.   According to the CDC, there is an estimated 3.2 million people infected with the hepatitis C virus nationally and 75% of them are people born between 1945 and 1965. With many in this age group infected decades ago, Baby Boomers  likely to develop hepatitis C-related disease in the next 5-10 years if left undiagnosed and untreated.  The New York State Department of Health (DOH) estimates there are over 200,000 New Yorkers living with hepatitis C and most do not know they are infected.

The testing bill comes at a pivotal moment when newly available medication can cure a majority of people with chronic hepatitis C infection, and even more effective treatments with fewer side effects are expected to be approved in the next 1-2 years.

“This is truly a life and death matter, and AARP is so pleased that Senator Hannon and Assemblyman Zebrowski won such an important victory for baby boomers,” said Beth Finkel, AARP New York State Director. “Offering a screening test to the thousands of New Yorkers whose lives could be saved or improved is just plain common sense.”

Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. Most people have been infected either during medical procedures before 1992 when the United States introduced universal blood product screening, or from injection drug use with non-sterile syringes.

The hepatitis C virus is a leading cause of serious liver disease and now kills more people in the United States each year than HIV/AIDS.  Because people infected with the hepatitis C virus usually have no noticeable symptoms for years and even decades, many are diagnosed too late to fully benefit from treatment and care.

“I would like to thank my Senate colleagues and our partners in the community for passing this landmark legislation today,” said Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau), the Senate bill sponsor and Chair of the Health Committee. “Nationwide, approximately three million adults are infected with the hepatitis C virus, most are baby boomers and three out of four are unaware they are infected. By requiring hospitals and clinics to offer hepatitis C testing to baby boomers, as recommended by the CDC, we have an opportunity to protect individuals from the leading cause of liver disease, and to treat and cure those who have been infected before they become seriously ill.”

“New York is one of the states with the largest hepatitis C epidemics in the country and offering testing to Baby Boomers, who are five times more likely of infection than other age groups, will go a long way in preventing New Yorkers from developing a life threatening and costly-to treat liver disease,” said Senator Gustavo Rivera. “Simply put, this law is good public health and will establishes New York as a leader in the eradication of this disease.”

Hepatitis C is a major health disparity that disproportionately impacts communities of color.  Researchers estimate that more than 3% of African Americans and 2.6% of Latinos nationwide are living with hepatitis C.  “More than one-in-five people living with hepatitis C are African American,” said C. Virginia FieldsPresident and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA). Chronic liver disease is a leading cause of death among African Americans, who are more likely than Whites to develop liver cancer if infected. I applaud the legislature’s action on this important issue, and urge Governor Cuomo to sign this bill into law.”

“This first-in-the-nation law will irrefutably save many lives from the silent killer that is hepatitis C,” said Hadiyah Charles, Hepatitis C Advocacy Manager at the Harm Reduction Coalition. “Many New Yorkers who are Baby Boomers – born between 1945 & 1965 – will be forever grateful to the NYS Legislature for their principled leadership and foresight in passing this necessary measure.”

“The hepatitis C epidemic is now killing more people than HIV, but has received far less attention, a problem we hope this legislation will begin to correct,” said Daniel Raymond, Chair of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, a group that advocates for public policies supporting hepatitis prevention, testing, and treatment. “The bill is also important because in addition to identifying people in need of care, testing will allow people living with hepatitis C to take steps to prevent transmission to others. This could result in a huge net cost savings down the road.”

Organizations throughout New York have endorsed the bill, including VOCAL-NY, Harm Reduction Coalition, AARP, NAACP, Citiwide Harm Reduction, Community Health Action of Staten Island, Harlem United,  Latino Commission on AIDS, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, NY Harm Reduction Educators and Village Care.

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