SACRAMENTO, CA — AB 789, a bill that would save countless lives and improve the health of thousands of Californians who suffer from hepatitis B and C, recently passed through the state Legislature in a series of unanimous, bipartisan votes, and it now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature to go into effect.
The bill — authored by Assemblymembers Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), and Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) — will close disparities in diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis B and C by making California the first state in the country to require health facilities to offer free, voluntary screenings. It will provide a model for other states to follow. The legislation was created in collaboration with the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University and co-sponsored by The Health Trust and State Treasurer Fiona Ma.
“I’m so proud of the coalition that came together on this bill to tackle hepatitis B and C health disparities in California, particularly in the Asian American, Pacific Islander and Black communities,” said Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley). “This bill gives us an incredible opportunity to offer free testing and get people the treatment they need before their health deteriorates. With the cost built into California’s already approved budget, I’m confident Governor Newsom will see fit to sign off on this life-saving effort.”
A 2018 study found that approximately 88% of people with chronic hepatitis B in California are members of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community. Meanwhile, Black Americans have the second-highest prevalence of chronic hepatitis B infection. If left undiagnosed and untreated, 15-25% of people with chronic hepatitis B will die prematurely from complications caused by the infection, including liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Asian Americans are eight times more likely to die from hepatitis B than non-Hispanic White Americans, while Black Americans are 2.6 times more likely to die than non-Hispanic White Americans.
Hepatitis C disproportionately impacts Black Americans, who are 2.9 times more likely to test positive than other racial groups. Black Americans account for about 15% of California residents with hepatitis C despite representing just 6.5% of the state’s population.
“As Chair of the Select Committee on Infectious Diseases and proud joint author of AB789, it is of top priority to take the necessary steps that will advance racial and economic equity in our health care system,” Assemblymember Gipson said. “We must do right by everyone that is impacted by hepatitis B and C, especially our Black and API communities, to increase access to screenings that would help save lives.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, and the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease all recommend testing of adults for hepatitis B and C. These services are covered by the Affordable Care Act and Medicare/Medicaid as routine preventive services, and funding for AB 789 would be covered in the recently passed state budget.
Dr. Samuel So, a Professor and the Director of the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, noted that this legislation will help address the “silent epidemic” of hepatitis B and C deaths.
“By closing the gaps in diagnosis and treatment, AB 789 is important, life-saving legislation that would help end the silent epidemic of liver disease and liver cancer deaths in California caused by untreated hepatitis B and C,” Dr. So continued. “As an Asian American whose community suffers from the highest hepatitis B infection rate, I strongly encourage Governor Newsom to sign AB 789 into law to help protect our vibrant Asian American community in California.”
According to The Viral Hepatitis National Strategic Plan for the United States: A Roadmap to Elimination (2021–2025), less than a third of people who have hepatitis B were aware of their condition, while only 60% of hepatitis C patients had knowledge of their infection.
“I’ve been proud to co-author AB 789, to make California the first state to require screening for Hepatitis B and C, while increasing awareness and preventing unnecessary deaths,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “We need to ensure that those who are impacted the most — Asian American, Pacific Islander and Black communities — have access to life-saving screenings.”
Hispanic Americans, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, and American Indian/Alaska Natives account for an estimated 29% of individuals with hepatitis C in California. American Indian/Alaska Natives are nearly three times as likely to die from hepatitis C than non-Hispanic White Americans.
“The Health Trust is grateful to both houses of the California Legislature for passing AB 789, with zero opposing votes,” said Michele Lew, CEO of The Health Trust, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit operating foundation focused on building health equity. “AB 789 is focused on lessening the devastation that viral hepatitis B and C infections have wrought on many Californians, particularly in communities of color. Early detection of viral hepatitis B and C not only means early treatment and countless saved lives, but it also means that Californian taxpayers will save on expensive treatment costs. The Health Trust encourages Governor Newsom's signature on this important legislation.”
Liver disease and liver cancer caused by hepatitis B and C account for more than a third of the liver transplants in California. Many lives can be saved with a one-time routine screening test for chronic viral hepatitis. By mandating health facilities to offer voluntary testing at routine medical appointments — and providing care for treatment for persons who test positive — AB 789 will save lives and California taxpayer dollars.