By Fred Mogul : Reporter, WNYC News
for hepatitis C, a deadly and widespread liver disease, a routine part of
healthcare for baby boomers.
The influential U.S. Preventive Task Force last week recommended primary care
doctors, such as internists and gynecologists, offer screening for the virus to
all patients born between 1945 and 1965.
A bill recently passed both houses of the New York legislature that would
give those guidelines the weight of law and penalize physicians who don’t offer
the Hepatitis C test to patients in this age group. It would be up to patients
to decide whether they actually want to take the blood test.
Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City), the bill’s author, said state
government has a role to play in controlling the epidemic, and that advisory
guidelines alone, even from a federal agency, are not strong enough.
“When you codify something, and it goes into the public health law, doctors
will follow it,” said Zebrowski, whose father died of hepatitis C in 2007 from a
blood transfusion decades earlier.
The Medical Society of the State of New York opposes the bill. The physicians
group does not object to the actual screening requirement, but it says the law
is structured in impractical ways—and that health experts, not politicians,
should create health regulations.
The bill is on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has not indicated whether
he supports it.
For years, doctors mainly offered tests for the virus to at-risk populations,
including IV drug users and people who recalled having blood transfusions prior
to 1992. That is when the first screening test was implemented, effectively
eliminating hepatitis C from the nation’s blood supply. Prior to the new
consensus, experts believed widely testing other groups would cost a lot and not
pick up many infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says there is strong
enough evidence that baby boomers do not know enough about the health care they
received in the 1970s and 1980s—including whether they received transfusions or
were exposed to blood in other ways—that it would be worth screening the whole
The hepatitis C virus attacks the liver but it typically takes decades for
external symptoms to emerge. The CDC estimates 3.2 million people are infected.
Other estimates go as high as 8 million, with as many as three-fourths of those
people unaware that they are carrying the virus.
New medications for hepatitis C have improved treatment and reduced side
effects, and more are in the development pipeline. Manufacturers of drugs and
tests—all of which could benefit from a broader screening regimen—include Bayer,
Merck, Vertex, Gilead, AbbVie, Orasure, Abbott Laboratories and Ortho Clinical
Diagnostics, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson has contributed $250 recently to Zebrowski’s campaign
committee. His office said the donation is the only one he received from a
company with hepatitis C products and came unsolicited, after the bill was
passed. Several of the companies, including Abbott, Johnson & Johnson and
Merck are regular donors to state politicians.
a company based in Cambridge, Mass., with a new hepatitis C drug, made its debut
as a giver to Albany in 2012. It has contributed $13,000 to legislators through
January of this year, mostly through the Democratic and Republican Assembly and
state Senate campaign committees. A handful of legislators received individual
$500 donations, including Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chairman of the
Senate Health Committee and the bill’s co-sponsor in the Senate.
Hannon's office declined to comment on the donation but said the bill is
consistent with the recommendations of the city Health Department, the CDC and
the Greater New York Hospital Association.