Massachusetts State Budget Impasse Results in Cancellation of Hepatitis C Programs
Massachusetts health officials announced yesterday that they are terminating a year-old program designed to educate doctors and those at risk for hepatitis C about the disease because of fiscal constraints caused by the ongoing state budget impasse, the Boston Globe reports. Health officials yesterday contacted 22 contractors who provide education, counseling and treatment referrals for the estimated 110,000 state residents with the virus, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and death if left untreated, to inform them of the cuts. Treatment programs themselves will not be affected. The proposed $22.9 billion state budget for FY 2002, which began July 1, is now 14 weeks late, as legislators seek to trim spending because of the recent "steep economic downturn." State agencies are operating on provisional budgets that use the lower figure from competing House and Senate versions. The Senate set aside $3.9 million for the hepatitis C program, but the House did not allocate any funding for the program. The state spent $2.75 million on the program last year. "It's not a public health decision, but a fiscal reality. We advocated for this program ... but we recognize that after Sept. 11, state revenues started declining rapidly and the House and Senate are going to have to set priorities," Paul Jacobsen, assistant commissioner of public health, said (Boston Globe, 10/5). The Massachusetts Hepatitis C Coalition called the cuts "particularly tragic, considering the many Massachusetts citizens who will unwittingly learn that they are positive for hepatitis C from screenings done on the blood donated after the Sept. 11 disaster." Larry Kessler, executive director of the Boston-based AIDS Action Committee, which is losing a state grant for its hepatitis C hotline, called the decision "crazy" and said it "will not stand" (Lasalandra, Boston Herald, 10/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.