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Cuomo signs bill protecting baby boomers from hep C

Stephon Johnson | 10/31/2013, 1:32 p.m.

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill designed to protect baby boomer New Yorkers from hepatitis C by requiring hospitals and health service providers to offer testing for the virus to anyone born between 1945 and 1965.

Hepatitis C is a debilitating and potentially fatal disease that disproportionately affects the baby boomer generation in New York and nationwide,” said Cuomo in a statement. “This new law will help fight hepatitis C and keep New Yorkers safe by providing testing to those most likely to have this virus whenever they visit a medical facility. I thank Sen. [Kemp] Hannon and Assembly Member [Kenneth] Zebrowski for their work on this important legislation.”

Sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chair Hannon and Assembly Member Zebrowski—whose father, a former assembly member from Rockland County, died from hepatitis C-related complications—the new law (S2750/A01286) helps New Yorkers born between 1945 and 1965—the age group with the highest infection rate—gain better access to care and treatment. The bill was also sponsored by organizations like the AARP, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and the NAACP. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1.

“Hepatitis C is known as the ‘silent killer’ because it can attack your liver for over a decade before you exhibit any symptoms,” said Zebrowski in a statement. “Recent estimates suggest that one out of 30 baby boomers could be infected, with as many as 75 percent unaware. My father passed away from hepatitis C in 2007, and my family experienced firsthand the lack of information and knowledge surrounding this epidemic. This one-time test will bring the disease out of the darkness and get thousands of New Yorkers lifesaving treatment before it is too late.”

A member of the organization Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY) told the AmNews that the new law was a long time coming.

“New York will lead the nation in making sure people with hepatitis C learn their status, which builds on Governor Cuomo’s strong record of tackling health disparities,” said Wayne Starks, who has been living with hepatitis C for over two decades. “I’m living proof that early detection of hepatitis C works. I’ve taken steps to protect my health and worked with my doctor to make decisions about how to lead a long and healthy life. We are grateful for Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Member Zebrowski and Sen. Hannon’s leadership to address this silent epidemic.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 3.2 million people are infected with hepatitis C nationally, and 75 percent of those infected were born between 1945 and 1965. That age group is most likely to develop hepatitis C-related diseases in the next five to 10 years if left undiagnosed and untreated. The New York State Department of Health estimates that there are over 200,000 New Yorkers living with the virus who don’t know they’re infected.

Hepatitis C is a virus transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. Most people were infected either during medical procedures before 1992 (when the United States introduced universal blood product screening) or from injection drug use with non sterile syringes.