For immediate release – October 23, 2013
Contact: Sean Barry, 646.373.3344 (cell), Matt Curtis, 646-234-9062 (cell)
Albany, NY – Hospitals and healthcare clinics in New York will now be required to offer baby boomers a test for the hepatitis C virus after Governor Cuomo signed a bill backed by a broad coalition of New Yorkers.
“New York will lead the nation in making sure people with hepatitis C learn their status, which builds on Governor Cuomo’s strong record of tackling health disparities,” said Wayne Starks, a VOCAL-NY leader who has been living with hepatitis C for over two decades. “I’m living proof that early detection of hepatitis C works – I’ve taken steps to protect my health and worked with my doctor to make decisions about how to lead a long and healthy life. We are grateful for Governor Cuomo, Assembly Member Zebrowski and Senator Hannon’s leadership to address this silent epidemic.”
The new law (S2750/A01286) was sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau) and Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City), whose father, a former Assembly Member from Rockland County, died from complications related to hepatitis C at the age of 61. By helping New Yorkers born between 1945 and 1965, the age group with the highest infection rate, learn their hepatitis C status, the new law will help those with chronic infection access care and treatment.
Hepatitis C is a leading cause of serious liver disease and now kills more people nationwide 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. Not everyone with hepatitis C develops liver disease, however, but the virus can cause other ailments, including chronic pain, skin infections and kidney disease, which early detection can help prevent.
The new law is modeled after new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued in 2012 and New York’s successful HIV testing law adopted in 2010. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which insurance providers often use to decide which services to cover, also recommended one-time hepatitis C screening baby boomers this past June.
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, the age group that is most 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 a majority 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.
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 broad range of organizations backing the new law reflects the concern across New York. In addition to VOCAL-NY, the bill has been endorsed by AARP, BOOM!Health, Community Health Action of Staten Island, Harlem United, Harm Reduction Coalition, Latino Commission on AIDS, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, NAACP, NATAP, NY Harm Reduction Educators, Village Care and others.
VOCAL-NY is a statewide grassroots organization working to create healthy and just communities by building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, drug use and mass incarceration. More information at www.vocal-ny.org.