Legislation Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Angela McKnight and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to establish requirements for hepatitis C screenings for the high-risk baby boomer population gained approval from the General Assembly on Monday.
More than 75 percent of adults infected with hepatitis C are baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the reasons are not completely understood, most baby boomers are believed to have become infected in the 1970s and 1980s when rates of hepatitis C were highest and widespread screening of the blood supply and universal precautions had not yet been implemented.
“The longer someone lives with hepatitis C, the more likely they are to develop serious, life-threatening conditions like liver failure or liver cancer,” said Conaway (D-Burlington), a practicing physician and chair of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. “For a high-risk population like the baby boomers, this is smart, possibly life-saving, public policy.”
Studies suggest that 45 to 85 percent of people infected with hepatitis C are unaware they are infected, and as many as 50 percent of hepatitis C infections may go undetected under the current risk factor screening standards. The CDC recommends one-time testing for hepatitis C infection of all people born between 1945 and 1965, suggesting that this testing is likely to identify approximately 800,000 people infected with hepatitis C.
Accordingly, the bill (A-3909) would set forth certain requirements for hepatitis C screenings for individuals born between January 1, 1945 and December 31, 1965 who are at increased risk for hepatitis C infection and associated liver diseases.
“Hepatitis C can be treated only if it’s detected,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Requiring screening for this disease to be offered will increase the likelihood that people receive the care they need and save lives.”
“When research shows that baby boomers are five times more likely than other adults to have hepatitis C, it is only prudent for medical professionals to screen this population more closely,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Identifying patients who have hepatitis C as soon as possible can help prevent more serious and costly health issues down the road.”
Specifically, pursuant to a standing order issued by its chief medical officer, a general hospital would be required, when providing laboratory services on an inpatient or outpatient basis to an individual born between 1945 and 1965, to provide the individual with a screening questionnaire for the risk factors for hepatitis C infection, and offer to provide the individual with a hepatitis C screening test. If the individual consents to a hepatitis C screening test, the hospital laboratory would be required to perform the test and transmit the test results to the health care provider who referred the individual for laboratory services.
Similarly, when providing laboratory services to an individual born between 1945 and 1965 upon referral by a health care professional, a bio-analytical or clinical laboratory, pursuant to a standing order issued by its chief medical officer or an equivalent officer, would be required to provide the individual with the hepatitis C screening questionnaire and offer to provide the individual with a hepatitis C screening test. If the individual consents to a hepatitis C screening test, the laboratory would be required to perform the test and transmit the test results to the health care professional who provided the referral for laboratory services.
The bill would take effect January 1, following enactment. The provisions concerning hepatitis C screening requirements would expire and be deemed repealed on January 1, five years following enactment.
The Assembly passed the measure 63-13.