Medicare/Medicaid May Cover Hepatitis C Screening As Preventive Service; Obamacare Next?

By Susan Jones | September 6, 2013 | 7:08am EDT

Many people who are infected with Hepatitis C don't know it. (AP File Photo)

( - The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to make screening for Hepatitis C in adults part of the preventive services it covers. And free screening under Obamacare may come eventually.

The formal review, initiated by CMS on Thursday, is expected to be completed next June, and public comments will be accepted until October 5.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease spread by blood-to-blood contact. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. "The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injection drug use."

The virus also can be spread by blood transfusions, organ transplants, and sexual contact.

CMS notes that as of Jan. 1, 2009, under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, it is allowed to add coverage of "additional preventive services" if that service is recommended with a grade A (strongly recommended) or grade B (recommended) rating by the United States Preventive Services Task Force  and meets certain other requirements.

CMS said it decided to initiate an analysis on paying for preventive Hep-C screening in adults, which received a grade B (recommended) rating from the U.S. Preventive Services task force. (The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, created in 1984, is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine.)

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services marked "World Hepatitis Day," noting that viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer in the United States, claiming some 15,000 American lives each year.

In a statement issued on July 26, HHS said the Affordable Care Act "by requiring health plans to offer certain free preventive services...provides tremendous opportunities to expand access to viral hepatitis testing, care, and treatment services."

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