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A State Assembly passes hep C bill; Senate up next

Stephon Johnson | 6/27/2013, 1:10 p.m.

Amsterdam News Staff

Last week, the New York Assembly passed a bill that would require doctors and hospitals to offer hepatitis C tests to baby boomers.

Introduced by Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon and Assembly Member Kenneth Zembrowski, the bill would require doctors and hospitals to offer hepatitis C tests to any patients born between the years 1945 and 1965 (aka the "baby boomer" generation).

Baby boomers are infected with hepatitis C at five times the rate of other age groups. The virus known as hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver disease and currently kills more people than HIV/AIDS annually in the United States. The bill has the backing of many organizations statewide, including the AARP and civil rights organizations.

"Hepatitis C is one of the leading health disparities in New York, in part because most people who are infected don't find out their status until it's too late to benefit from treatment," stated Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "By requiring doctors and hospitals to start offering hepatitis C testing to baby boomers--the age group with the most number of infections--New York can set a model for the rest of the country to follow."

"Most people with hepatitis C can now be cured, but only if they know their status," added state Sen. Eric Adams, chair of the Senate Aging Committee, in a statement. "This bill expands testing to New Yorkers born between 1945 and 1965 because baby boomers make up the majority of cases."

Diane Nunez, a Bronx resident and leader for the organization VOCAL-NY who is living with hepatitis C, said that this bill is a necessity for the protection of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

"People deserve to know their hepatitis C status so they can take steps to protect their health," said Nunez in a statement. "Hepatitis C doesn't need to be a death sentence. Many people living with hepatitis C can now be cured with new medication that's available. But people living with hepatitis C can only be cured if they know their status early enough, which is not happening under the current system."

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York would become the first state to pass a hepatitis C law based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new suggestion that urges doctors to start offering hepatitis C tests to baby boomers.

In a statement, C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, talked about the need to educate baby boomers.

"By getting tested and determining their status, those at risk can get lifesaving treatment and learn how to protect themselves against future infection," said Fields. "We need to educate and inform as many people as possible about this often invisible virus that has become a silent epidemic in the United States. We urge New Yorkers to contact their local and state elected officials to support passage of this critical state legislation that will expand access to testing and set an example for other communities throughout the nation."