By Lia Kamana | KITV4 | January 22, 2022

HONOLULU – Hawaii has received a “B” grade on a national viral hepatitis report card. 

Hep ElimiNATION is a new nationwide scorecard that assesses hepatitis policies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The scorecard was issued by the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR), a national coalition “fighting for an equitable world free of viral hepatitis.”

Here is a breakdown of why Hawai’i received a “B” grade:

  • The state scored poorly in areas related to access to direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications in the state’s prisons and insurer practices requiring specialist authorizations for DAA treatment.
  • The state also scored poorly in areas pertaining to budget allocations for hepatitis elimination and the collection and publication of up-to-date surveillance data.

“This scorecard identifies specific areas where our state can improve upon its approach to viral hepatitis in our communities. Removal of specialist prior authorization requirements, whether under MedQuest or private insurance, will expedite a hepatitis C patient’s access to life-saving medication. Our state’s prisons should also facilitate increased prevention, screening, and treatment for viral hepatitis. Regularly updated surveillance data would help inform decision making across the board,” said Heather Lusk.

Heather Lusk is the Co-Director of Hep Free Hawai῾i (HFH), a local coalition dedicated to increasing access to viral hepatitis and harm reduction services across the state.

Following the scorecard issued by the NVHR, HFH is callling for state policymakers to consider changes that would expand screening and treatment of viral hepatitis across the state.

Viral hepatitis is estimated to impact roughly 63,000 people in Hawai῾i, which also has among the highest rates of liver cancer in the nation.

“Hawai῾i remains well-positioned to become a national leader in prevention, screening, and treatment of viral hepatitis A, B, and C,” said Lusk. “In recent years HFH has worked with over 120 community partners on a strategy to eliminate viral hepatitis A, B, and C on a statewide basis.”

Hep Free 2030” identifies five priorities to eliminate hepatitis in Hawai῾i: awareness and education, access to services, advocacy at all levels; equity in everything; and data for decision making. It also articulates four core values: harm reduction, social justice, intersectionality, and aloha.

national strategic plan on hepatitis elimination, issued by federal Department of Health & Human Services, recommends the removal of “insurance coverage, price, and payment barriers to viral hepatitis care and treatment, including prior authorization requirements.”

States that received an “A” grade include: Louisiana, Indiana, Washington, Michigan, New York, and California.

Only Arkansas and South Dakota received an “F.”

According to NVHR, the rubric employed in the scorecard “was developed in consultation with more than 40 stakeholders, including advocates, clinicians, government partners, and people who have lived experience with viral hepatitis.”

 In 2020 the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared viral hepatitis a “winnable battle,” making it a national public health priority where significant progress can be made in a relatively short timeframe.

The CDC’s articulated goal is to “reduce new viral hepatitis infections and decrease deaths associated with viral hepatitis.” The CDC estimates that there are over 3 million people with viral hepatitis living in the United States, with 2.4 million infected with hepatitis C.

About Hep Free Hawai῾i: Hep Free Hawai῾i is a coalition of local, national, and global partners dedicated to increasing awareness of and access to viral hepatitis and harm reduction services throughout the state of Hawai῾i. Born out of a partnership between the Hawai῾i Department of Health, the CHOW Project (now the Hawai῾i Health & Harm Reduction Center), and other community agencies, Hep Free Hawai῾i has been successful by connecting with communities across the islands to make Hawai῾i truly “Hep Free.”

Hep Free Hawai῾i’s mission is to empower Hawai῾i’s ῾ohana to promote liver health and wellness; to raise awareness and increase access for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of liver disease, especially viral hepatitis, and related harm; and to erase stigma, social inequity, and health disparity surrounding communities affected by liver disease.