Hepatitis C Test for Baby Boomers Urged by Health Panel
On June 24, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that all US residents born 1945–1965 should receive hepatitis C testing. The decision reversed a November USPSTF grade C ruling, which deemed that screening would have “only a small benefit.” A review of new studies and public comments influenced the task force to decide screening would have a “moderate net benefit” and change its decision to a grade B recommendation.
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers must provide preventive services that receive a USPSTF grade A or B without cost to consumers, although some existing health plans are exempted from this requirement. The new USPSTF ruling aligned more closely to CDC’s advice, which stated all baby boomers should receive a one-time offer of hepatitis C screening.
Approximately 75 percent of hepatitis C-infected Americans are baby boomers, many of whom have been infected for several years but remained unaware of the virus because they had no symptoms. Those at high risk for hepatitis C included people who injected drugs and those who had blood transfusions prior to 1992, when donated blood screening began.
The growing effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment influenced the new recommendations. In addition, public comments argued that screening all baby boomers would be more effective than testing only the people who reported high-risk behaviors to their healthcare providers. The USPSTF decision will increase demand for hepatitis C tests and treatment and benefit companies such as OraSure Technologies, Merck, and Vertex. Gilead Sciences and AbbVie currently are competing to develop hepatitis C treatments that will eliminate the need for weekly injections of alpha interferon.
The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill requiring healthcare providers and hospitals to offer hepatitis C screening. The bill has been sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for approval.
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