- Published: 25 August 2015
The governor recently vetoed Senate Bill 661, which is a cost-saving measure intended to save lives by requiring doctors to offer adults born between 1945 and 1965 a one-time screening test for Hepatitis C. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Health, I am perplexed by the reasons given for governor's veto and his unwillingness to reach a compromise or an alternative, other than an outright veto.
One of the primary concerns the governor had was that this measure would change a doctor’s standard of care with respect to these patients, but I disagree. The Medical Society, the Centers for Disease Control and every doctor who testified before the Senate Public Health Committee all agreed that doctors should be offering the one-time screening test; however, some doctors are not following their own guidelines. This bill would codify the medical community’s current guidelines and recommendations.
I also disagree with the governor’s assertion that this bill will cost the state more money. The offer to screen a patient does not cost a dime. Additionally, if a patient accepted a doctor’s offer to be screened, the current cost of screening is covered by all forms of insurance, including Medicaid. The cost of the screening test is around $10-$20 per test.
Prevention and awareness are the reason for this bill. Hepatitis C is a silent killer and offering a screening test is the first step to eradicating it. Even people diagnosed with hep C who can’t get treated with current medication can slow down the effects of the virus by changing their lifestyle. They can also take steps to ensure they don’t spread the virus.
While the cost of treating the hep C virus is not the subject of this bill, it is an important discussion that needs to take place. If treated with current medication that can eradicate the virus, the cost is about 10 percent compared to not treating the virus. Illinois’ strict criteria for treating patients on Medicaid means those Medicaid patients within Illinois that are diagnosed with hep C have virtually no access to a cure that is available to the rest of the population covered by private insurers. This is a moral dilemma and this is a policy decision that is in need of a checkup.