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Hepatitis News: Resolutions Introduced; New MedQuest HCV Guidance & CDC HBV Recommendation

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Mahalo nui to Senator Joy San B

Mahalo nui to Senator Joy San Buenaventura and Representative Della Au Belatti for introducing resolutions (SCR 86 and HCR 205) that call for a joint informational briefing later this year to assess the progress of “Hep Free 2030,” a strategy to eliminate hepatitis A, B, and C on a statewide basis and determine recommended future legislative action. Sen. San Buenaventura is the Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, and Rep. Belatti is the Chair of the House Health & Homelessness Committee.

A recent provider memo from the Med-Quest Division of the state Department of Human Services will foreseeably expand access to life-saving treatment for viral hepatitis C, one of the leading causes of liver cancer in the state.

“Med-QUEST has rightfully aligned with national best practices and should be commended. Now it’s incumbent upon our state’s medical providers to adjust their practices to functionally expand access to needed life-saving treatment. Providers states have removed prior authorizations entirely with good results,” said Dr. Christina Wang, HHHRC’s Medical Director. HHHRC provides fibrosis screenings and referrals to care at its in-house clinic in Kakaʻako.

On March 10, the federal Centers for Disease Control issued new guidance recommending that all persons over the age of 18 be screened for hepatitis B (HBV). The recommendation also states that “anyone who requests HBV testing should receive it.”

“These new recommendations are essential to eliminating hepatitis B in Hawaiʻi, especially given the disparities in our local Asian and Pacific Islander communities. We look forward to collaborating with our local providers, insurance payers, patients, and other partners to ensure universal adult screening occurs in a meaningful and timely way,” said Thaddeus Pham, Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator with the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health.

“Universal screening is a critical way to reach those who are living with HBV but are unaware of their status. While there is no curative treatment, as there is for HCV (hepatitis C virus), those living with HBV can substantially reduce their risk of serious illness and death through antiviral treatment, monitoring, and liver cancer surveillance. Those who test non-reactive for HBV can subsequently receive a vaccine to prevent infection,” said HHHRC Executive Director Heather Lusk.

Last month’s Hawaiʻi Hepatitis B Mortality and Liver Cancer report, which analyzed mortality data over two decades (2000-2020), found that Hepatitis B deaths in Hawaiʻi are three times the national rate. Death rates among Asian and Pacific Islander residents were 1.2-1.4 times higher than the state average.

According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, up to 2.4 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with HBV, with only 25% of that figure knowing their HBV status.

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