June 18, 2012
Jack Meyer, PhD
Vern K. Smith, PhD
The implementation of national health reform in the U.S. provides important opportunities to increase the awareness, routine screening, and treatment of viral hepatitis. An estimated 2.2 million Americans are infected with chronic hepatitis B (HBV), yet nearly two-thirds of these people are unaware of their disease until they have developed liver cancer, cirrhosis, or liver failure many years later. A growing body of evidence indicates that when HBV is detected early and properly treated, these highly adverse outcomes can be delayed or avoided altogether.
Enrollment in health coverage is absolutely vital to this early detection and treatment. In fact, our research shows that liver transplants can be reduced by 58 percent and the death rate can be reduced by 20 percent when lower-income people are enrolled in insurance coverage and treated early in the course of their disease. This study projects that over 70,000 people with HBV will newly enroll in Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and about 75,000 more people with HBV will newly enroll in Health Insurance Exchanges. We find that a 5 percent reduction in liver transplants for HBV patients could finance more than 420,00 screenings.