SACRAMENTO, CA — On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 789 into law, making California the first state in the country to provide adults voluntary screenings for hepatitis B and C in an effort to save countless lives and close disparities in diagnosis and treatment.
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) — received unanimous, bipartisan support in the Legislature, and it should 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 State Treasurer Fiona Ma and The Health Trust, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit operating foundation focused on building health equity.
A 2018 study found that approximately 88% of people with chronic hepatitis B in California are members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) 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.
“I’m so grateful to the coalition that worked on this bill, and to Gov. Newsom for recognizing that all Californians deserve access to hepatitis B and C screenings,” Assemblymember Low said. “Hepatitis particularly affects so many people in AAPI and Black communities across California, which is why a screening is actually priceless when it comes to keeping our loved ones with us for many years to come.”
Liver disease and liver cancer caused by hepatitis B and C account for more than a third of the liver transplants in California. AB 789 will save lives and California taxpayer dollars by mandating that health facilities in 2022 begin offering voluntary testing at routine medical appointments, as well as and providing care for treatment for persons who test positive.
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.
“88% of those diagnosed with hepatitis B look like me,” Treasurer Ma said. “Early detection saved my mother’s life and gave us eight more years with her, and I am genuinely grateful for Governor Newsom’s signature of our bill, AB 789, to ensure some of our most vulnerable patients also have the chance to receive health screenings that may in fact save their lives.”
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.
“I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing AB 789, a common-sense bill that takes the necessary steps to advance racial and economic equity in our health care system,” Assemblymember Gipson said. “As Chair of the Select Committee on Infectious Diseases, we must do right by everyone that is impacted by Hepatitis B and C, especially our Black and AAPI communities, to increase access to screenings that would help save lives. My deepest appreciation to my colleague Assemblymember Evan Low for putting forth legislation that puts equity front and center.”
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. Funding for AB 789 will be covered in services already contracted between helath providers and the California Department of Health and Human Services.
“As a physician and Chair of the Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, I am very thankful for the Governor’s signature of AB789,” Senator Pan said. “Currently, the vast majority of Californians living with Hepatitis B and C come from marginalized communities with less access to healthcare. The free screening this bill would authorize, gives people from those communities the chance to undergo treatment before the disease seriously effects their health outcomes.”
Dr. Samuel So, a Professor and the Director of the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, said 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 an 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 am thrilled that Governor Newsom has signed AB 789 into law to help protect our vibrant Asian American community in California from one of our greatest health threats.”
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.
“Expanding access to hepatitis B and C screenings will save lives in California,” Assemblymember Chiu said. “Hepatitis B disproportionately impacts our Asian American communities. By signing this bill, California is equipping patients with the information they need and working to address disparate health outcomes in communities of color.”
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 overjoyed that AB 789 has been signed into law,” said Michele Lew, CEO of The Health Trust. “AB 789 will ensure Californians with hepatitis B and C will receive both early detection and treatment, saving many lives, particularly those in communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by hepatitis B and C. The Health Trust is thankful to our partners, the Asian Liver Center at Stanford. We also thank Assemblymember Low, Assemblymember Gipson, Assemblymember Chiu and Senator Pan for their support and tenacity in championing AB 789. Finally, we are thankful to Governor Newsom in his signing of AB 789, further showing his commitment to health equity. ”
Josh Koehn (Asm. Low)
Kasey O’Connor (Treasurer Ma)
Brenda Contreras (Asm. Gipson)
Jen Kwart (Asm. Chiu)
Shannan Velayas (Sen. Pan)
Samuel So (Asian Liver Center at Stanford University)
Victoria Ramirez (The Health Trust)