The Baltimore doctor believes that ideally, everyone should be tested for hepatitis B and C. Although he is not alone in his thinking, there are many physicians that may not be as aware of the need for screening, and even those in high risk groups may be inadvertently missed. And should a physician decide to screen, there is no ICD code, or International Classification of Diseases code for high-risk based HCV or HBV screening. Insurance companies use these codes to determine if services and payment is warranted. An insurance company may actually deny payment for HBV or HCV testing if they do not believe there is a valid reason for screening. For example, elevated ALT levels might prompt a physician to “legitimately” screen for viral hepatitis. There is also no problem with ICD codes if you are already diagnosed with HBV or HCV, but you can’t readily be screened using a convenient code. Viral hepatitis does not discriminate. There are certainly high risk groups where HBV or HCV may be more prevalent, but that should not discourage a doctor from screening a patient if she feels it is warranted.
How might a doctor get around a lack of adequate diagnostic codes? We asked a physician who cares for Asian-Americans. This group is at particular risk for HBV infection and should be screened whether they have elevated ALTs or not. He circumvents the lack of an official ICD code with a work-around. He uses the “CMS code V15.85 – Contact with and (suspected) exposure to potentially hazardous body fluids”. This works, but some physicians may not be as comfortable as others with this work-around. Sadly, this likely equates to fewer across-the board screenings for hepatitis B and C.
New HCV testing recommendations are to be released sometime this year by the CDC, and the US Preventive Services Task Force will weigh in on the HCV screening debate as well. Thus, there might be an ICD code for routine HCV screening code available in the near future. Despite established HBV screening guidelines, there are currently no ICD codes for routine HBV screening and to my knowledge, none are to be proposed. Would more patients be routinely screened for HBV if the process were more straight forward? Probably. It is unfortunate that an important screening may be impeded by the lack of a simple diagnostic code. Naturally this is not the only problem, but it is one that should be easy to resolve.
If you think you are at risk for HBV, or wish to be screened for HBV, please tell your doctor that you want to be sure about your HBV status. If you insist, I’m sure he will comply with your wishes and work around any issues regarding inadequate diagnostic screening codes for hepatitis B. Speak up and be your own advocate!
If you read Hepbtalk’s blog last week summarizing the Viral Hepatitis Policy Summit, you know that it will take efforts from all advocacy organizations and people like YOU telling your story and asking that money be dedicated to viral hepatitis. Please get involved. We need YOUR help!
On February 13, 2012, President Obama kicked off the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations process with the release of his budget proposal. The President’s FY2013 budget flat funds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Viral Hepatitis (DVH) at the total funding level of FY2012 – including the $10 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund. We need your help in raising awareness among Members of Congress about viral hepatitis and asking their support for increased funding for viral hepatitis activities at the federal level. Viral hepatitis advocates are urging for protection of the President’s request and an increase to $59.8 million for DVH, which is $30.1 million more than the current funding level of $29.7 million.
In the next 2-3 weeks, all Senators and Representatives will write their “programmatic appropriations request letters,” which ask members of the Appropriations Subcommittees (who put together the federal funding legislation) to include funding for their priorities. The more Members of Congress that include a request for hepatitis funding in their letters, the greater the likelihood the Appropriators will include additional funding in FY2013.
Viral hepatitis impacts over 5.3 million people nationwide. With a lack of a comprehensive surveillance system, these estimates are likely only the tip of the iceberg and 75% of those infected do not know their status. Even with these daunting figures, there are only $29.7 million in federal funding dedicated to fund viral hepatitis activities nationwide at the CDC. Members of Congress need to know that viral hepatitis is a concern in their district, that their constituents are being affected and that this is an issue they need to care about. We need you to tell your story and ask your elected representatives to take action by March 20.
Step-by-step instructions on what to do are below:
Determine what Members of Congress to contact. You should contact your personal Member of the House of Representatives and two Senators. You should also contact other House Members in areas where your organization is located or provides services. To determine who your Representative is please go to www.house.gov and type in your zip code(s); to determine who your Senators are go to www.senate.gov and select your state from the drop down menu.
My name is ____________ and I live in City/State. I am writing to urge Representative/Senator________________ to include funding for viral hepatitis in his/her Fiscal Year 2012 programmatic appropriations request letter. [Include brief details on the impact of viral hepatitis on yourself or describe your organization].
There are over 5.3 million Americans impacted by viral hepatitis but the only dedicated federal funding stream provides a mere $29.8 million through CDC. This is insufficient to provide the most basic public health services such as education, counseling, testing, or medical management for people living with or at risk of viral hepatitis.
I urge Representative/Senator ___________ to support the President’s budget request of $29.8 million for FY2013 and increase the request to a total of $59.8 million for the Division of Viral Hepatitis to effectively combat these epidemics. I will be following up with you in the near future to discuss this request. In the meantime, feel free to contact me with questions.
Thank you again for consideration of my request.
Follow-up with the staff you have emailed with a phone call to confirm they received the request and to determine when they may have an answer from their bosses as to whether or not they will include a hepatitis funding request in their Appropriation programmatic request letter. If asked, make it clear to the staff that this is a program request and NOT a project request (i.e. money for a district specific project like a bridge, hospital or university). You may need to follow-up again around the time the staff says they will have an answer from their chain of command.
If you need assistance or want to talk through the process please email or call Oscar Mairena at (202) 434-8058 or omairena@NASTAD.org. If the staff member requests “report language” or “program language,” please contact Oscar and he will provide that for you. Please also share positive responses with the Hepatitis Appropriations Partnership by contacting Oscar.
Senior Associate, Viral Hepatitis/Policy and Legislative Affairs
National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
Earlier this week, I attended the 2012 Viral Hepatitis Policy Summit held in Washington D.C. The audience at the summit is viral hepatitis advocates for both hepatitis B and C. With the recent data on deaths from HCV surpassing those from HIV, and with an arsenal of new, effective drugs, HCV is clearly in the forefront of discussions at this time. Since my personal experience is HBVpatient oriented, I always struggle with keeping up with the details of the meetings, but I suspect most people reading this blog are in the same place, so I’ll try to make the take home message as simple as possible.
The first day was held at NASTAD with visits from Dr. John Ward of the CDC, Division of Viral Hepatitis, and from Dr. Ron Valdiserri and Corinna Dan of the Health and Human Services (HSS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases. Everyone is anxiously awaiting the release of the CDCs updated hepatitis C screening recommendations. They will be coming out later than expected, and that is unfortunate because it is hoped they will be released in time to help drive the guidelines written by (US Preventive Services Task Force)USPSTF, which helps determine what procedures will ultimately be covered by Medicare (and paid for by private insurance companies as well.) As of now, it doesn’t look like the USPSTF guidelines will include HCV testing for high-risk individuals, so it is hoped that the CDC recommendations will counter these guidelines to help improve future HCV screening rates in the U.S. This potential time bomb was a source of conflict throughout the entire two days of the summit.
The other hot button was the $10million that was allotted to the Division of Viral Hepatitis to carry out all tasks viral hepatitis oriented. I’m no accountant, but there’s a lot of work to be done and $10M is not that much money in the scheme of things. How will this money best be put to use – collecting surveillance data, running screening programs, linkage to care for those who test positive, HBV vaccinations…the list goes on. And the money must be carefully monitored and be associated with a successful program if we are to warrant additional future funding. One message was made clear – advocate groups had best collaborate and be very creative in order to make things happen on the viral hepatitis front. I believe this is true, but it’s hard to make things happen without money to build the infrastructure or put these programs into place.
The second day was held at the Rayburn building, which is one of the Congressional office buildings. There was a full day of presentations, starting with visits from some of viral hepatitis’s champions in Congress including Congressman Honda (CA), Congressman Dent (PA) and Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA). There are other champions in Congress, but we need more if we are to make a dent in the viral hepatitis problems. That’s where the work of the advocates and those living with hepatitis come into play. You need to get involved and make your state Representative understand how serious viral hepatitis is in his or her district.
There were various panels throughout the day including a panel of staff from some of the viral hepatitis Congressional champions, guests from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and an informal discussion with DC based policy experts on working with the Administration and Congress. Then there were the discussions of fiscal year 2013, appropriations discussions, a discussion of viral hepatitis testing and health care reform and how it applies to viral hepatitis. That’s a mouth full. I spent a lot of the day trying to figure out what money was really available, where it came from, and which pots of money were in jeopardy of disappearing. It’s complicated, and I’m not going to pretend to really understand it. There’s the President’s budget and what he recommends. Budgets need to be passed by the House and the Senate, which is very tough these days with the political and fiscal climate on the Hill.
I don’t believe it’s necessary for the average American living with viral hepatitis to talk-the-talk and track the pots of money that may or may not ever be dedicated to viral hepatitis. Your Congress person is under a lot of pressure to make fiscal decisions based on the needs of his or her constituents. We were told they literally enter their top picks into the computer on where they think money should be spent. It is our job to see that viral hepatitis is on the list. One of the staff members noted how important a number of small splashes are compared to a big splash that may occur with large, media driven events. He gave a take home message that even I can understand. As viral hepatitis advocates or patients living with hepatitis, if just one person from each district were to contact his Representative and drive home the importance of funding for viral hepatitis, it would make a difference. We need to put viral hepatitis on the radar of our Representatives and our Senators. Few politicians are knowledgeable about viral hepatitis. Individual efforts would go a long way towards educating and raising awareness of the people that are representing us in office. Make the story personal. Let them know the cost of treatment is nothing compared to the cost and burden of transplantation. Make viral hepatitis part of their vocabulary and put a face on it.
The final message I got, which is more patient oriented, was based on a side discussion about what happens after testing guidelines are established. For example, there are testing guidelines for HBV, and yet even those in high risk groups may not be getting tested, nor are they vaccinated. One physician recommended that as advocates, we need to stress the importance of these guidelines to the professional associations to which our doctors belong. That is the job of advocacy organizations like the Hepatitis B Foundation and others. However, ask around and see if you, or friends and loved ones are being screened for diseases such as HBV, HIV or HCV. Does your doctor ask you if you are foreign born, or if you travel frequently to developing nations? Does he spend enough time with you to know about your lifestyle and whether it might put you at risk? Most likely, your doctor does not know if you are willingly or unwillingly involved in activities that may increase your risk for HBV. It’s yet another reason why it’s so important for patients to get involved in their own care and offer up information that might make your doctor consider preventive screening. And if all else fails, ask your doctor about being screened for HBV, HCV or HIV if you believe you are at risk.
Show the love by protecting yourself and your sexual partners by wearing a condom. They protect the mouth, vagina or rectum from infected semen if used consistently and correctly. Keep in mind that the riskiest sexual activity is unprotected receptive anal intercourse. This is because the lining of the rectum is very thin and more likely to bleed leading to the possibility of infection with blood borne pathogens like HBV, HCV and HIV, along with other sexually transmitted diseases. Receptive vaginal intercourse is the next highest risk. Although the lining of the vagina is stronger than the rectum, inflammation, infection, or microscopic scrapes make the vagina vulnerable to unprotected intercourse. The likelihood of blood borne pathogen transmission with oral sex is least risky, but that is because the risk of blood contact is much lower. However, any kind of intimate sharing of bodily fluids presents some degree of risk of transmitting blood borne pathogens like HBV, HCV and HIV, and may effectively transmit other sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s important if you’re living with HBV, not living with HBV, or not quite sure of your infectious disease status. If you are living with HBV, properly wearing a condom keeps you safe from becoming co-infected with another infectious disease. No one wants a co-infection. It complicated and dangerous for your health. If you do not have HBV, then avoid getting an infection by you or your partner wearing a condom. HBV is vaccine preventable, but HCV, HIV and other STDs are not vaccine preventable. Considering the health and safety of yourself and your sexual partners is paramount. You may not know what they have, and they may not know what you have. Why take the risk? Love safely, get vaccinated against HBV, and wear a condom consistently and correctly. “Share affection, not infection”.
This month’s Clinical Infectious Diseases evaluated the transmission of HCV through tattooing and piercing. It is important to note that HBV is also of great concern when considering a tattoo or piercing. Unless you are vaccinated against hepatitis B, you are at risk for HBV if you are tattooed or pierced under unsterile conditions. The net-net is if you have a tattoo or piercing in a professional parlor – one that follows infection control practices and uses single-use items whenever possible and sterilizes re-used equipment using ultrasonic cleaning and sterilization with an autoclave , there does not appear to be an increased risk, though additional study is warranted. However, tattoos or piercings in prisons, or other settings that are not performed under sterile conditions are a serious danger.
The process of tattooing entails repeated injections of tiny drops of ink. That’s thousands of tiny needle sticks per minute, and a very effective transmission route for blood borne pathogens like HBV, HCV and HIV. This does not mean getting a tattoo will expose you to infectious disease, but if you choose a tattoo parlor that is not well regulated and safely follows all infection control practices, then you greatly increase your risk of infection.
Here’s the problem with tattoo parlors in the United States. They are not carefully or consistently regulated. There are no federal regulations. For the most part they are state regulated, with each state having its own rules and regulations. Regulated states require that tattoo parlors have permits, and be inspected. Who inspects the parlor? – Sometimes it’s the State Department of Health, and sometimes it’s the local health department, so the inspections vary. There are some states with local regulations within the state, and even a few states with NO regulations. That is worrisome and dangerous. What are the rules and regulations for your state on this unofficial list? (Please read the site disclaimer) Do the research on the rules in regulations in your state, or city before looking for a tattoo parlor.
What does this mean if you’re considering a tattoo? Your tattoo is a personal decision that will live with you for the rest of your life. You don’t want to contract an infectious disease that may also live with you for the rest of your life and potentially threatens your life. Shop for a clean, parlor that treats each tattoo like a mini, out-patient procedure – with all infection control practices followed. You want a tattoo parlor that uses single-use needles, ink, ink cups, and gloves. You want to see these tools come out of their sterile packaging –right in front of your eyes. You want a tattoo parlor with a functioning, inspected autoclave so that re-usable tools such as tattoo machines and needle bars can be properly sterilized. You want a tattoo parlor that is clean and an artist that washes his hands and wears gloves. If the shop is dirty, keep looking. Speak up and ask the artist questions about his shop and his infection control practices. Don’t forget to ask to see the autoclave. If anything makes you wary about the visit, look else-where.
Hep B Free Philadelphia “B A Hero” PSA Video Contest 2012
Channel your creativity and skills for a good cause and win prizes!
Raise HBV awareness!
Hep B Free Philadelphia and Hepatitis B Foundation invite you to create a 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) to raise awareness about hepatitis B. Finalists will receive prize money and the winner’s PSA will be shown at Hep B Free Philadelphia’s annual media event as well as ** drum rolls** the 2012 Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival! Thousands will get to see your creative brainchild!
Hepatitis B is a serious infection that affects about 2 million people in the United States. About 1 in 10 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are chronically infected—with African immigrants approaching a similar ratio as well. About 1 in 4 of the chronically infected individuals will die of liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Many infected individuals are not aware of their status because hepatitis B doesn’t usually produce symptoms for decades, and when the symptoms start showing it is often too late for treatment—it is a silent killer!
Help us raise awareness by entering the “B A Hero” PSA Video Contest and submitting a PSA made by you! Videos should highlight hepatitis B and include the “B A Hero” theme.
5 Easy Steps:
1. Make a 30-second video to raise awareness and B a hero
2. Check the fact sheet below to make sure all your HBV information is correct
3. Submit the PSA through Facebook
4. Get all your friends to vote for your PSA
5. Win prizes and B famous!
Good news for those with chronic hepatitis B that are taking cholesterol-lowering statins. Results published in Jan. 23 Journal of Clinical Oncology show statins may actually lower the risk of liver cancer for those living with chronic HBV in a dose dependent manner. The study monitored 33,413 hepatitis B patients for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) between 1997 and 2008 and tracked the number of HCC cases since 1999.
These are important findings because chronic hepatitis B significantly increases the risk of liver cancer, which causes 80% of primary liver cancers (HCC) worldwide. In the U.S., HCC is the second deadliest cancer with a five year survival rate of less than 10%. Those with chronic HBV are 100 times more likely to develop liver cancer than those without HBV. There are a number of contributing risk factors such as age, gender, ethnic background, family history, smoking history, and extent of liver damage. Despite the known risks, it is impossible to predict without regular liver cancer screening. Be sure to discuss the guidelines for liver cancer screening with your doctor, as there are specific risk factors that may make monitoring sooner and more frequent, important. Make liver cancer screening part of your bi-annual or annual monitoring of your HBV and liver health.
So, how do statins reduce the risk of liver cancer for those with Chronic HBV? The mechanism has not been determined and will require further study. Statins may reduce the risk of HCC, but it is important to carefully discuss the use of statins with your liver specialist and other treating physicians. Monitoring of your liver enzymes while taking statins is important for those without HBV, but it is even more critical if you have HBV. Start with a baseline of your liver enzymes (ALT/AST) before beginning statin use, followed by testing at 6 and 12 week intervals. You want to ensure your ALT/AST levels do not increase by more than three times the upper limits of normal. Any spikes in your ALT/AST levels will likely occur in the first three months of statin use. Elevated levels may require a discontinuation of one statin and a simple switch to another. With the help of your treating physician(s) you will determine what is best for your unique situation to ensure the benefits of statin use outweigh the risks.
And if you are taking a daily statin, don’t forget the importance of eating a well-balanced diet. Sitting down to a big-ole cowboy steak with your statin is probably not what the doctor had in mind when he prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication!
There’s a contest going on and we’d love your help! Facebook is having a little competition to see who can get the most “likes” on their facebook page. The Hepatitis B Foundation wants to help jump-start Hep B Free Philadelphia’s Facebook page, and help them win “facebook Ad cash” in the process. What will Hep B Free Philly do with those Facebook Ad dollars? Well, Hep B Free Philly will use those Ad dollars to possibly raise donations, but perhaps more importantly, it’s another way to use one of our favorite social media channels to help promote hepatitis B awareness.
That’s it! If you really want to help Hep B Free Philly win, ask your friends or family to “like” the page. It’s that simple!
Use the little “Facebook share button” at the top of this blog to share it with your facebook friends!
This little competition ends March 31, 2012, so please don’t delay!
While you’re there, feel free to check out the page and see what Hep B Free Philadelphia’s community-owned public health campaign is doing in Philadelphia to educate and raise public awareness, along with increasing testing and vaccination in the fight against hepatitis B and liver cancer. You can also check out Hep B Free Philly’s website! They’ve got a lot of great activities going on!
Finally, the Hepatitis B Foundation also joined the competition. At this time our facebook page has 684 “likes” of our page! We’d like to win some of those free Facebook Ad dollars and see how we can use them to raise HBV global awareness. So, if you haven’t already, be sure to “like” HBF’s Facebook page!
Action Alert! The Hepatitis Community Responds to Health Care Reform. Tell Congress Not To Cut The Prevention and Public Health Fund
The Prevention and Public Health Fund is under attack in Congress once again. Some leaders in the House of Representatives would like to make drastic cuts to the Fund as part of negotiations on a long-term deal on the payroll tax cut and Medicare payments rates to medical providers.
The Prevention and Public Health Fund, part of the Affordable Care Act, provides money each year for vital prevention and public health services. The fund will grow each year until it eventually provides $2 billion/year.
This fund is extremely important to the nation’s fight against the viral hepatitis epidemic. Later this year, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to allocate $10 million from the Fund for viral hepatitis screening, testing, and education programs. This initiative will greatly help efforts to identify the millions of Americans who have chronic hepatitis B or C and link them to care and treatment.
Please take a few minutes to call Congress in support of this lifesaving program!
What YOU can DO:
Please call your U.S. House Representative and two U.S. Senators immediately. We are hearing directly from Congressional staff that phone calls are the most effective form of communication.
Call the Capitol Switchboard toll-free at 1-888-876-6242 and ask to be connected to your United States Representative. When you reach your Representative’s office, tell whoever answers the phone that you are a constituent and that you would like to speak to the staff person who handles health care issues. Whether you speak to the staff person live or leave a voicemail, tell him/her:
“My name is _______________ and I live in (city/state). I am calling in strong support of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is an important part of the Affordable Care Act. This Fund is a great opportunity to provide badly needed funding for viral hepatitis prevention, testing, and screening programs and must be preserved. I urge Representative_____________ to oppose any efforts to cut the Fund as part of the payroll tax/Medicare physician reimbursement negotiations.”
After you speak to your Representative’s office, call the Capitol Switchboard again and deliver the same message to the health care staff person in your two U.S. Senators’ office.
Thank you for taking the time to make a difference! Please spread the word.
Apple recently revealed a list of its suppliers of the iphone, ipad and other gadgets, and the labor, health and health and environmental violations against some of the offenders. Most of these violations were out of Taiwan and China. Included in the list of violations was the screening of employees for hepatitis B. What will this disclosure mean to those living with hepatitis B in China and around the world? Apple has responded to each of the violations that were uncovered and says it will end relationships with repeat offenders. Will this stop discrimination against those living with HBV? Probably not, but it may stir-the-pot, encouraging other corporations to do the same. Apple has star power, and the ability to make waves due to their success and reputation. However, it is likely that foreign suppliers will circumvent the system and continue screening its employees or prospective employees for hepatitis B.
The question is how a job making gadgets, or components for gadgets, for Apple or any other company could possibly pose a reasonable risk of HBV exposure to any factory employee? Hepatitis B is not transmitted casually. It is not transmitted by sneezing, coughing, shaking hands, sharing a meal, or working side-by-side with someone on the factory floor or sharing an office with someone who has hepatitis B. HBV is transmitted through blood and infected body fluids through blood to blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterilized needles and from an HBV infected mother to her newborn during delivery.
Every day the Hepatitis B Foundation responds to inquiries from people around the globe. Due to the stigma associated with HBV, chronic carriers may be denied employment due only to their HBsAg positive status. There are special circumstances where exposure prone procedures may put others at risk due to an HBV infection. This would be limited to health care positions that involve invasive procedures such as gynecologic, cardio-thoracic or surgical procedures that might put a patient at risk. These risk-prone occupations do not include – other health care positions, jobs in the food industry, the retail industry, being in an office, in a factory, on cruise line, or any number of ordinary jobs. A positive HBsAg test should not prohibit employment, or entering and working in another country.
There will always be discrimination in our world. Even with laws that protect employees in the U.S. there are ways to circumvent the system and quietly discriminate. In many countries where HBV is prevalent, discrimination is blatant. And of course HBV screening is merely the tip of the iceberg with the violations and deplorable working conditions in countries like China. Eyes wide-open can be a little disconcerting for those of us with our favorite gadgets. Apple’s disclosure of these violations is commendable and a start in the right direction. Hopefully other companies will step-up and follow their lead.