US lawmakers led by Asian Americans on Monday pushed to ramp up spending to fight hepatitis B and C, warning that the disease is causing a long-term burden for the costly US health care system.
Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases commonly spread by blood that can lead to early death if untreated. Hepatatis disproportionately affects Asian Americans, in part due to its prevalence in parts of East Asia.
The bill led by Representative Mike Honda, head of the Asian American caucus in Congress, would devote 90 million dollars as of 2011 to help prevent and immunize people against hepatatis and step up research.
The California lawmaker said that efforts against the disease were underfunded, with 18.3 million dollars devoted to hepatitis in the current fiscal year compared with 692 million dollars for domestic efforts against HIV.
"We have a wave of chronic liver disease that will crash like a tsunami on the United States health care system if we do not address this problem now," said Lorren Sandt, chair of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, an umbrella organization of groups fighting the disease.
"This simple legislation will help identify the people who are chronically infected and get them into treatment, which can save millions in future health care costs," Sandt said.
Some five million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C but many are unaware, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The hepatitis bill spearheaded by Honda, a Democrat, is also supported by Republican lawmakers including Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a physician.
"As a hepatologist, I have witnessed firsthand the consequences hepatitis can inflict on a patient's health, their families and the nation's health care budget," he said.
Honda's office is seeking additional supporters of the legislation and is hoping the bill can move forward after legislation on reforming the health care system.
President Barack Obama has made health care reform his top priority. Some 47 million Americans lack medical insurance although the United States spends more per Gross Domestic Product on health care than any other wealthy nation.