After years of steadily increasing hepatitis rates, the country has lost its way on controlling the deadly viral disease. Now, it has a new map.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released the National Strategic Plan: A Roadmap to Elimination for viral hepatitis. Its final destination: disease elimination by the end of this decade.
The ambitious plan prescribes a coordinated effort among public and private health care providers. Roles exist for federal, state and local governments.
Among the plan’s goals:
- Preventing infections and increasing testing through greater public awareness
- Improving health related outcomes for people with viral hepatitis, which includes increasing access to treatment
- Reducing hepatitis-related disparities and health inequities
- Coordinating efforts among all partners and stakeholders.
The roadmap to elimination was developed with the input of more than 20 federal agencies, health care providers and the public. Those dedicated to ending hepatitis transmission praised the plan. Some noted, though, that it won’t be successful without additional action.
“Federal and state polices that create barriers to hepatitis treatment and care must also be removed,” cautioned Daniel Raymond, director of policy for the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable.
One common barrier is prior authorization, a multi-step process required to demonstrate a patient qualifies for treatment. Health care providers may be asked to prove criteria such as:
- Sobriety requirements, which demand that patients abstain from alcohol or other substances for a period before being eligible for treatment.
- Advanced liver damage, which forces people to wait until their liver has reached a certain level of irreversible harm.
Patients’ treatment may also be delayed due to prescriber restrictions that limit which health care providers can prescribe curative treatment for hepatitis C.
Even though there are effective vaccines for hepatitis A and B, and effective cures for hepatitis C, the virus has made a comeback. More than 3 million Americans are infected with viral hepatitis, which can progress to serious liver disease, cancer and even death.
With the new map in hand, though, policymakers have an opportunity to chart a different course over the next decade.