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Nov 11: New JAMA Article Underscores Urgent Need for Congress to Act on Viral Hepatitis Detection, Management Funding

November 11, 2009

Bipartisan Legislation Would Support State-based Efforts

WASHINGTON, DC—An article running in the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis May Lead to Boom in Serious Liver Disease,” underscores the urgent need for Congress to act on new bipartisan legislation, HR 3974, that would increase funding for a comprehensive prevention, research, and medical management referral program for chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C virus infection afflicting millions of Americans, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) said today. 

The NVHR is a coalition of more than 150 public, private, and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity, and mortality from viral hepatitis in the United States through strategic planning, leadership, coordination, advocacy, and research.  www.nvhr.org

“This new JAMA article shines a spotlight on the urgent need for Congress to act on bipartisan legislation to increase funding for comprehensive prevention, research, and medical management of chronic liver disease,” said NVHR Chair Lorren Standt.  “Without action, the annual costs of chronic liver disease are projected to triple in less than a generation to at least $85 billion annually and wreak havoc with minority communities, especially African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans.”

The JAMA article provides a succinct overview of the global nature of hepatitis infection – more than 500 million people worldwide are believed to be infected with hepatitis B or C virus – and its implications for the US health care system.  As the complexion of the US population diversifies in the coming decades, the need to address chronic liver disease will intensify. The article also pointedly notes that “shifts in clinical practice and public policy could help prevent viral hepatitis infections and improve outcomes for patients with chronic infection.” 

Last month, bipartisan legislation, “The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control Act,” was introduced in the US House of Representatives by Congressman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and supported by 11 House Members that would support a comprehensive prevention, research, and medical management referral program for chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C virus infection. The bill would provide an initial $90 million in funding in 2011 – with additional funding thereafter – that will increase the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support state health departments in their prevention, immunization and surveillance efforts.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans are infected with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C infection – and most individuals are not aware they are infected.  Without meaningful detection and treatment programs, hepatitis infection can progress to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.  According to Milliman, the cost of chronic hepatitis C virus infection alone could reach $85 billion annually by 2024.   Medicare and Medicaid are projected to absorb a disproportionate share of those costs. 

In January 2010, the Institute of Medicine is expected to release a report on viral hepatitis in the United States that outlines strategies for reducing the incidence of viral hepatitis infection and to mitigate complications in those individuals with chronic infections.

Contact: Phil Blando, pblando@abmpartnersllc.com, 202-258-4978