By Elise Viebeck - 04/03/13 10:52 AM ET
Medicare should promote screenings for hepatitis C given the
frequency of the virus among older patients, advocates said Wednesday.
The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, a coalition of health groups and
medical providers, circulated a letter urging federal health officials to offer
hepatitis C screenings as part of patients' first Medicare exam.
The advocates said baby boomers represent 75 percent of U.S. cases
of hepatitis C and that screening them for the virus could save more than
"The best way to identify [infected] individuals, so that they can
benefit from care and treatment before developing late stage liver disease,
liver cancer, and/or need a liver transplant, is to ensure everyone in the
birth cohort have an opportunity to be tested," the roundtable wrote to federal
Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"Testing everyone in this age range
removes stigma associated with the test, thus reducing barriers for the provider
and the patient," the group added.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
recommended last year that every baby boomer get tested for hepatitis C, which
many people carry without knowing it.
The virus often has no symptoms at
the time of infection. It may be transmitted by sharing needles, or through a
bad blood transfusion or organ transplant.
Dr. John Ward, head of the
CDC's viral hepatitis division, said many older people who injected drugs in
their youth have unknowingly carried hepatitis C for decades.
"We had an
epidemic of hepatitis C transmission in the '70s and '80s, and we're now seeing
an epidemic of hepatitis C disease," he told
NPR last August.
The National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable is seeking additional
signatures to its letter before delivering it to Sebelius on May 1 for Hepatitis
Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/medicare/291629-medicare-patients-need-hep-c-tests-coalition-says#ixzz2PuDuN4o4