Washington, D.C. joins States in Removing Restrictions to Hepatitis Treatment - Now Education Needs the Same Attention
The Liver Health Initiative applauds Washington, D.C. Medicaid for lifting prior authorizations that have historically restricted marginalized communities from receiving access to hepatitis treatment. Eliminating these barriers is a monumental win for health care equity and justice. We also highly encourage jurisdictional leaders to advocate for increased promotion of liver health education, to help unidentified patients understand their risk status, seek testing, and initiate treatment.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that can cause significant liver damage, various health complications, liver cancer, and potentially death. Hepatitis C (HCV), which is spread through contact with blood of an infected individual, is increasingly prevalent in the United States - partially due to ongoing devastation caused by the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 2.4 million Americans are currently living with HCV, with half of these individuals being completely unaware of their infection status .
The World Health Organization has a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, which was envisioned following the development of curative treatment for hepatitis C. However, persistently high drug costs and access barriers have resulted in appallingly low treatment rates. Discriminatory Medicaid policies such as restricting treatment for patients with a history of substance abuse, limiting prescribing privileges to certain specialists, and requiring prior authorizations have disporportionately impacted vulernable popuations. These include minority communities, people who inject drugs (PWID), rural communities, and LGBTQ+ communities to name a few. States and jurisdictions that uphold these policies undermine all national efforts to treat hepatitis and reduce the spread of potentially fatal infection.
Jurisdictions like Washington, D.C. and others who have lifted such restrictions are making a bold statement that supports health equity for all. However, coupled with these policy changes should be a concerted effort to educate the masses about hepatitis and the liver itself. As mentioned, many individuals with hepatitis are unaware of their infection status. They need to be informed about risk behaviors that may have resulted in them acquiring the virus or further damaging their liver health through poor food and lifestyle choices.
Broadening access to treatment must be accompanied by an upscaled effort to educate the public, so that they are motivated to advocate for their own health and wellness. The Liver Health Initiative dedicates itself to promoting simple and effective liver health education that empowers individuals of all ages to understand the importance of their liver and how to protect it. Our messages and materials can easily be integrated into any health education program or curriculum, to ensure that audiences receive vital liver health information that provides the rationale for making healthy decisions on a daily basis.