Pa. baby boomers might face mandatory hepatitis C screenings

    Pennsylvania lawmakers could send to the governor a plan to make doctors test for hepatitis C among those most likely to have it – baby boomers.

    The mandatory screening for people born between 1945 and 1965 would address another medical issue contributing to rising health care costs.

    Hepatitis C causes liver failure if left untreated. Most people don’t know they have it.

    Rahdearra Jones, 27, spoke at a Tuesday news conference in Harrisburg about her mother, who died five years ago at the age of 54 from liver disease caused by hepatitis C. The disease had been diagnosed too late. “There are people who are dying every day from this disease,” said Jones. “There are people, children, who are losing their parents due to disease that … has a cure and also something that can be prohibited. So we need to be more proactive instead of reactive.”

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    A 2009 Milliman actuarial study found that more than 3 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C, but two-thirds of them don’t know it. Associated medical costs are expected to rise from $30 billion to $85 billion nationwide over the next 20 years.

    House lawmakers passed the mandatory screening bill earlier this year. A spokesman for the Republican Senate majority leader said the Senate could approve the measure next week.

    Sen. Anthony Williams,  D-Philadelphia, suggested failure to act would confirm that lawmakers share in the “bigotry which is associated with this particular disease.”

    “Many of the people who contracted the disease were part of a lifestyle in the ’60s and ’70s, and therefore some people in the Capitol don’t think it is necessary for us to provide the level of attention that would be due to all citizens,” said Williams.

    “We need to do it in a hurry,” said Jones.

    Lawmakers are scheduled to have just three voting days left before the end of the legislative session.

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