National task force: baby boomers should be tested for hepatitis C

July 3, 2013

Physicians should offer hepatitis C testing to all U.S. baby boomers, an influential medical-guidelines body has recommended. The recommendation made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force could result in hundreds of thousands more diagnoses of the liver disease, greater numbers of insurers covering the tests, and greater sales for drug manufacturers poised to introduce new treatment options.

The recommendation represents a turnabout for the group, an independent organization of medical experts that advises Congress on preventive medicine. The task force issued draft guidance in November saying there was inadequate evidence proving the benefit of screening baby boomers for hepatitis C, which can be fatal if it progresses to liver cancer or liver cirrhosis.

Since then, however, the task force considered new clinical data showing a stronger link between diagnosis and treatment for hepatitis C and lowered risk of liver disease mortality. Newer, noninvasive screening methods—as well as new treatments made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Merck & Co. that have improved cure rates and reduced treatment duration—also factored into the decision, according to Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, a task force member and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine.

Recommendations made by this task force carry significant weight with physicians because of its reputation as a neutral arbiter of medical issues. In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires many private insurers to cover tests and services given positive recommendations by the task force. The requirement means that millions of Americans born between 1945 and 1965 could have tests paid for with no out-of-pocket costs, regardless of whether or not they have disease symptoms. Read the task force’s formal statement.