WASHINGTON, March 16 Warning that "systemic underfunding of the Centers for Disease Control's Division of Viral Hepatitis puts millions of Americans' health and well-being at risk," the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) today called on the Administration to work with Congress to take decisive action this year to fix the funding failure for viral hepatitis screening, surveillance, and early intervention programs. While an estimated 5 million Americans are infected with viral hepatitis B or C, the Administration's budget proposal for 2011 would fund the Division of Viral Hepatitis at a level actually lower than allocated a decade ago during the Clinton Administration. The Administration's neglect is particularly troubling given a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report blasting the federal government for its inadequate response to this crisis.
NHVR Chair Lorren Sandt was joined at a Capitol Hill press briefing today by NVHR Steering Committee Member Andrew Muir, M.D. of the Duke University School of Medicine. In addition, four Members of Congress participated in the briefing: Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia who recently completed treatment for hepatitis C; Representative Mike Honda, Democrat of California, who is the lead sponsor of HR 3974, which would provide $90 million in new federal funding for the CDC's viral hepatitis screening, surveillance, and early intervention programs; and Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao and Representative Mike Cassidy, M.D., both of whom are Republican cosponsors of HR 3974 from Louisiana. Congressman Cassidy is also a practicing hepatologist.
"NVHR applauds Congressmen Johnson, Honda, Wu, Cao, and Cassidy for their steadfast, bipartisan commitment to providing adequate funding for viral hepatitis screening, surveillance, and early intervention programs benefiting 5 million Americans," said Ms. Lorren Sandt, NVHR Chair and Executive Director of Caring Ambassadors Program, based in Portland, OR. "With the window of opportunity to address this crisis rapidly closing, NVHR urges action this year on the bipartisan Honda-Dent legislation. Otherwise, the federal government's systemic underfunding of viral hepatitis programs will continue to put millions of Americans at risk, particularly in the African American and Asian American communities."
The CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease, and Tuberculosis Prevention (NCHHSTP) is the umbrella federal agency overseeing the Division of Viral Hepatitis (DVH). The Administration's FY 2011 budget proposal calls for a $1.8 million increase for the Division of Viral Hepatitis, a marked improvement from last year's meager Administration proposal of $51,000. Still, the Division of Viral Hepatitis annual budget accounts for just two percent of the entire annual NCHHSTP budget. Perhaps most tellingly, the Administration's total 2011 budget proposal for DVH of $21 million is still less than the $25 million in annual funding that was allocated ten years ago. Meanwhile, the depth and breadth of this crisis has only worsened.
Bipartisan legislation, HR 3974, "The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act," sponsored by Representatives Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Charles Dent (R-Pa.) and 29 other House Members would correct this shortfall. The Honda-Dent legislation would increase the ability of the CDC to support state health departments in their prevention, immunization and surveillance, and referral to care efforts. Much of the Honda-Dent legislation tracks with the IoM's recommendations.
With roughly 1 in 50 Americans afflicted with chronic viral hepatitis B or C - and an overwhelming majority unaware they are infected - millions of Americans are at risk, especially African Americans and Asian Americans. Without detection and treatment, chronic viral hepatitis leads to liver cancer, cirrhosis, or liver failure. In the absence of federal leadership, the research firm Milliman estimates that public and private payers' cost of treating chronic viral hepatitis C alone will more than triple by 2024 to $85 billion. Medicare and Medicaid would absorb a disproportionate share of these added costs.
"As a practicing hepatologist, every day I see the staggering human and economic costs associated with a lack of screening, surveillance, and early intervention for viral hepatitis," said Dr. Andrew Muir. "Fully 80 percent of US liver cancers could be prevented if we provided a relatively modest increase in federal funding for these programs. Without decisive action this year from Washington, millions of Americans will continue to be at risk and the cost to the health care system will be overwhelming."
NVHR is a coalition of more than 150 public, private, and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity, and mortality from chronic viral hepatitis that afflicts more than 5 million Americans. www.nvhr.org
SOURCE National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable