Screening Baby Boomers for Hepatitis C
American Liver Foundation Applauds New USPSTF Policy Change – Calls for Screening of all Baby Boomers for Hepatitis C
New testing recommendations could protect millions of Americans approaching retirement age from a lethal liver disease, currently detected too late
New York, NY (June 28, 2013) – The American Liver Foundation (ALF) fully supports the recent policy change by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), recommending the systematic screening of all “baby boomers” for Hepatitis C. ALF also fully supports the CDC guidelines on Hepatitis C testing, namely that all persons born between the years of 1945 and 1965 be screened for the Hepatitis C virus, independent of any risk factors. It is estimated that 45% of patients with Hepatitis C do not have any risk factors, and that 75% of all infected individuals fall within the stated “baby boomer” age range. ALF welcomes and applauds this policy milestone in the battle against rising rates of serious liver disease.
Primary care providers have been reluctant to conduct preventive testing for Hepatitis C in baby boomers without USPSTF endorsement, in part because testing not supported by USPSTF is likely to increase healthcare costs for many patients. The policy change by USPSTF will positively influence screening protocols, reimbursement, Medicare, and forthcoming Affordable Care Act policies. Until now, only well informed and motivated patients prepared to ask for the Hepatitis C test have been receiving it. With these obstacles removed, it is expected that the new policy will rapidly lead to more systematic screening for Hepatitis C alongside other preventive tests that start in mid-life and are an expected part of the aging process.
“Without this change in policy by the USPSTF, millions of baby boomer Americans would continue to remain in the dark about their Hepatitis C status, and therefore be unable to change the course of a disease which is silent for many years, and deadly once it has progressed,” stated Tom Nealon, Chairman of the Board of Directors, American Liver Foundation. “This is a potential tragedy for so many hard working Americans preparing for a happy retirement, only to find their health compromised as a result of an accidental infection contracted decades ago”.
“This policy change is good news for American baby boomers, and represents progress in reducing the burden of liver disease, particularly in Americans of pre-retirement age,” said Chicago liver disease specialist Dr. Nancy Reau, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine and American Liver Foundation Board Member. “We are seeing increasing prevalence of serious liver disease in this age group, particularly in terms of rising rates of liver cancer, which indicates that underlying causes such as Hepatitis C and obesity are having a real impact. Diagnosis is the first step in halting disease progression, and allows us to better manage the common co-morbidities that are associated with particularly poor outcomes in liver disease” Dr. Reau added.
“We are delighted that the USPSTF has decided to back the CDC guidelines to screen baby boomers for Hepatitis C”, states New York transplant physician Dr. Hillel Tobias, M.D., Professor of Medicine, American Liver Foundation board member, and Chair of its National Medical Advisory Committee. “The combined support of both these public health bodies will foster the systematic identification of people in the baby boomer age group who are unaware that they are infected. This is an especially good policy statement now that we have treatments available, and many new drugs soon to be introduced to eradicate chronic hepatitis C infections and prevent its dreaded complications, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and death due to liver failure”.
Statement from National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR), 24 June 2013
American Liver Foundation Hepatitis C Education and Support Program “HEP C 123”:
Experts Available for Interview:
Nancy Reau, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of Chicago
Hillel Tobias, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine, New York University