Join the Conversation at the Hep B United Summit; Watch the Summit On Periscope!

Hep B United largeThe annual Hep B United Summit, organized by the Hepatitis B Foundation, convenes in Washington D.C. from Wednesday, July 27 through Friday, July 29. National and local coalition partners, experts, stakeholders, and federal partners will meet to discuss how to increase hepatitis B testing and vaccination and improve access to care and treatment for individuals living with hepatitis B.

You can watch many of these important sessions LIVE on Periscope. You can also follow the conversation at the Summit on Twitter with #Hepbunite! Continue reading

Closing a Healthcare Gap: Medicare Finally Covers Hepatitis B Testing in At-risk Seniors

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka
Medicare insurance pays for seniors to get vaccinated against hepatitis B, but it doesn’t cover testing to find out if they’re infected and need life-saving treatment. The federal government is now poised to close this glaring healthcare gap that prevents at-risk seniors from getting screened for hepatitis B.
Last week, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services proposed to cover hepatitis B testing in seniors age 65 and older who may be at risk of the liver infection.
Currently, the majority of the estimated 2 million Americans with chronic hepatitis B are over age 50, and the longer they are infected, the higher their risk of liver damage and cancer. This preventive screening saves lives and is cost-effective, because treatment with antivirals quickly and effectively reduce liver damage.
Until the Hepatitis B Foundation, Hep B United, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations and the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable asked the federal government to cover screening,  seniors who wanted to be tested for hepatitis B had to pay for the test themselves. Because hepatitis B is a “silent” infection, causing few symptoms until cirrhosis or cancer develop, nearly two-thirds of Americans living with hepatitis B have never been tested, identified or referred to life-saving treatment.
The highest rate of liver cancer in this country is in Vietnamese-American men, many of whom were never tested for hepatitis B. By the time they are diagnosed, it is often too late. Here’s two more examples of the high cost of this healthcare gap:
·         The Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in New York City serves a large Asian-American population. When the clinic screened all of its patients for hepatitis B, it found 7.8 percent of patients age 65 and older were chronically infected and 45 percent had been infected in the past.
·         Another New York City study of African immigrants, which included all ages, found 9.6 percent of them were chronically infected.

Today, the most vulnerable Americans are infected at a rate 10-times the national average, yet until now the government didn’t cover the cost of screening them. Medicare did cover testing if there were signs of liver damage from other medical tests, but in the case of late-stage hepatitis B infections, a diagnosis often comes too late for treatment.

Screening seniors for hepatitis B has a life-saving ripple effect across generations. When hepatitis B is diagnosed in a grandparent, there is an opportunity to educate, test and vaccinate their children and grandchildren who are also at risk.
Under the new guidelines, which also apply to disabled people covered by Medicare Part B, Medicare will reimburse primary care providers when they screen people at risk of hepatitis B, including:
·         People born in regions with high hepatitis B rates, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and some areas of South and Central America.
·         U.S.-born residents who were not vaccinated at birth and whose parents come from high-risk regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and central and Southeast Asia
·         HIV-positive persons, injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and
·         Family and household members of people with chronic hepatitis B.
This expanded coverage will go far to screen seniors, but gaps remain.
Under the proposed guidelines, only primary care providers can order testing, but many specialists including oncologists, rheumatologists and gastroenterologists see patients at risk for hepatitis B. The expanded coverage should include them and also pharmacists.
Additionally, both providers and the public need to know more about hepatitis B. Today, the majority of people infected with hepatitis B don’t know they’re infected. Patients often don’t share their true stories of activities that may put them at risk of hepatitis B, especially if it includes sexual abuse or injecting drug use, and doctors often don’t have the time or the skills to elicit this vital information. Along with expanded coverage should come public education to provide a common language for these difficult conversations.
Lastly, while providers are screening more Asian-Americans for hepatitis B, many of those at-risk remain undiagnosed, including first- and second-generation African immigrants.
This expanded Medicare coverage is long over-due, but we have a long way to go.
 To read the proposed, expanded coverage for hepatitis B testing,  please click here.
To submit a comment about the proposed coverage, click here .

 

Changing Jobs? How to Find the Best Employer Health Plan When You Have Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Christine Kukka

You’ve just landed a new job with a better paycheck, but how do you make sure your new health plan covers the tests, doctor visits and medications needed for your or a family member’s hepatitis B?

Many people with chronic medical conditions find switching health plans can affect the quality of their medical care and requires a careful calculation of what their out-of-pocket healthcare costs may be in the year ahead.  There’s a lot to consider and doing your homework is essential to finding the best employer insurance plan for your health and your wallet. Two key questions to ask are:

Can I keep the same family doctor and/or liver specialist?  You don’t want to lose the expertise and personal rapport you may have developed with a provider. And, hepatitis B specialists are few and far between in many regions. Find out what doctors and specialists the new plan covers. Some plans offer several options, so find out which one covers your doctor. If the new plan doesn’t include your liver specialist, are you willing to pay extra to stay with him or her? For more information about health insurance terms and shopping for a plan, click here.

How do you make sure the new plan covers your drugs and lab tests? And how do you find this out without disclosing your hepatitis B? First, you cannot be denied coverage — or a job — because of your hepatitis B. The Affordable Care Act prohibits employers from denying anyone coverage because of a pre-existing health condition. However, you need to do your homework and look carefully at the deductibles, copays and coinsurance a plan offers. Continue reading

Celebrate Democracy July 4, Because Building Walls Never Stops Disease

Image courtesy of porbital, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of porbital, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

By Christine Kukka

As the United States celebrates its inclusive, democratic heritage this July 4, the world appears to be pulling apart and disregarding the health and welfare of tens of thousands of refugees.

Civil unrest, extremism and poverty are causing thousands to flee the Middle East, Africa and other regions daily. Faced with this humanitarian crisis, some countries and politicians are advocating building walls instead of bridges.

Britain has just voted to leave the European Union. Proponents of “Brexit” shifted the debate away from the economic impact of leaving the E.U. and onto immigration and issues of nationalism. They used the tried-and-true tactic of fear-mongering and blaming outsiders and newcomers for slow economic growth to lure voters to sever their close ties with Europe.

Building walls and ignoring the plight of refugees has terrible human and political consequences. For example, civil unrest helps speed the spread of diseases like hepatitis B around the world. According to estimates,  every year up to 16 million hepatitis B infections (along with 160,000 HIV and 4.7 million hepatitis C infections) result from unsafe injections, many of which are administered in refugee settlements and war zones. In addition to unsafe injections, children don’t get vaccinated against hepatitis B, contributing to the spread of liver disease. Continue reading

In Rural Villages Across India, an Everyday Hero Works to Eradicate Hepatitis B

Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

Villagers in India attend an education class to learn how to prevent hepatitis B.

By Christine Kukka

India has one of the highest hepatitis B infection rates in the world. An estimated 40 percent of all hepatitis B deaths worldwide occur in India each year, and about 3 percent of its 1.25 billion residents – about 40 million — are chronically infected.

This liver disease wrecks medical and emotional havoc in India. People diagnosed with hepatitis B struggle to attend schools, advance professionally, and even marry due to the ignorance and stigma surrounding this infection.

Like many countries, India’s government is struggling to find resources to screen, immunize, and treat the millions of people affected by hepatitis B. But some people, including Surender Kumar and Sandeep Godara of New Delhi, are not waiting for the government to eradicate hepatitis B.

The two men have created a nonprofit organization called Rann India Foundation and enlisted support from various organizations and pharmaceutical companies to raise awareness about hepatitis B in some of the poorest slums and rural regions of India. Increasingly, advocates like Kumar and their grassroots army of volunteers and staff are needed to combat hepatitis B globally. Continue reading