May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, a time when the healthcare and patient advocacy communities rally support for the millions of Americans afflicted with the disease, including an estimated 3.2 million suffering from chronic Hepatitis C (also known as HCV).
Over time, chronic Hepatitis C can cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death. In fact, Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and is the number one cause of liver transplants.
While millions live with Hepatitis C, many don’t even know they are infected. This “hidden epidemic” can strike just about anyone, but those born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have the disease than those in other age groups. That’s why the CDC has issued a recommendation for all Americans born during that time to get a blood test for the disease.
In addition to the baby boomer generation, others may be at high risk for HCV infection, including those who:
- Use injection drugs
- Used unsterile equipment for tattoos or body piercings
- Came in contact with infected blood or needles
- Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992
- Received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
- Needed blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time due to kidney failure
- Were born to a mother with HCV
- Had unprotected sex with multiple partners
- Have or had a sexually transmitted disease
- Have HIV
For people at risk, knowing they have Hepatitis C can help them make important decisions about their healthcare. Successful treatments can eliminate the virus from the body and prevent liver damage, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. But sometimes, the cost of those treatments are out of reach, even for those with medical insurance.
Financial Relief Available
The HealthWell Foundation’s new Hepatitis C Fund is bringing financial relief to underinsured people living with the disease. Through the fund, HealthWell will provide copayment assistance up to $15,000 for HCV treatment to eligible patients who are insured and have annual household incomes up to 500 percent of the federal poverty level. To determine eligibility and apply for assistance, or learn how to support this program, visit http://bit.ly/HepC2015.
“The new generation of hepatitis C treatments has brought excitement to patients who have been hoping for a breakthrough,” said Krista Zodet, HealthWell Foundation President. “Through the generosity of our donors, our Hepatitis C Fund is able to help more people receive these treatments while minimizing the worry over financial stress.”
Because many HCV infections are identified only after the patient becomes symptomatic, community health centers are extremely important for getting patients into care. BOOM!Health is a community service organization located in the Bronx, New York, the epicenter of the Hepatitis C epidemic in New York City. It offers a variety of services to those living with HCV infections, including a fully staffed health center, pharmacy services, case management, nutrition education, counseling, pantry services, syringe exchange, behavioral care, and more.
“People living with HCV continue to face serious challenges, such as stigma and lack of access to treatment,” said Robert Cordero, President and Chief Program Officer, BOOM!Health, a community health center based in the Bronx that supports individuals on their journey towards health, wellness and self-sufficiency. “Non-profits that provide funding assistance like HealthWell fill a gap that we’ve watched grow.”
“Nearly 3.2 million people in the United States and about 150 million people worldwide are chronically infected with HCV,” said Tom Nealon, Esq., National Board Chair of the American Liver Foundation, a national patient advocacy organization that promotes education, support and research for the prevention, treatment and cure of liver disease. “The HealthWell Foundation and other independent copay charities play a vital role in seeing that those who are insured but can’t afford their medication copay are able to access and stay on treatment.”
If you or someone you know is living with Hepatitis C, emotional, physical and financial support are critical. What organizations and programs are you turning to for help? Let us know in the comments.