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Hepatitis Bill Promotes Quicker Testing

Nearly 200,000 Pennsylvanians have hepatitis C and don’t know it, and new legislation could help them find out.

The bill would require health care providers to offer hepatitis C testing to baby boomers, people born between 1945 and 1965.

Rep. Matt Baker (R-Bradford), the bill sponsor, said a greater emphasis on testing would save lives.

“By increasing testing opportunities, this legislation will insure that more individuals living with hepatitis C can become aware of their infection status, get available treatment and take steps to prevent transmission,” Baker said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of all hepatitis C cases in the country are comprised in the baby boomer age group. If everyone born between 1945 and 1965 were tested, approximately 121,000 deaths would be avoided.

The disease affects approximately 3.2 million people in America, and an estimated half of those cases remain undiagnosed.

Early testing would “lead to better health outcomes,” like preventing the disease from progressing into cirrhosis or liver cancer, Baker said.

“The bill does not require patients to get the screening,” Baker said. “It just simply requires a doctor to offer it if their patient is in that age group.”

Baker, chairman of the Health Committee in the state House, said an earlier diagnosis would benefit Medicare. As infected baby boomers age, their disease could progress to advanced liver disease, which would increase Medicare payments.

“The peak of the HCV-infected population has not yet aged into Medicare eligibility,” Baker said. “The failure to act proactively and preventively will cost billions.”

The bill passed in the state House on Monday and will head to the Senate.