The CMS is proposing covering hepatitis B virus screening for Medicare beneficiaries following a recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
A screening test would be covered for asymptomatic beneficiaries who are deemed at high risk for a hepatitis B infection. The agency defines this population as those born in countries and regions with a high prevalence of infection of the virus.
Asian and Pacific Islanders make up 5% of the U.S. population but account for over 50% of Americans living with hepatitis B, according to the CMS.
Also included in the high-risk category are U.S.-born persons not vaccinated as infants whose parents were born in regions with a very high prevalence of hepatitis B infection, HIV-positive persons, men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, sexual partners of persons with hepatitis B infection and pregnant women.
The CMS proposes covering annual screenings for these populations. Advertised costs for diagnostic tests range from $50 to $200.
The decision comes two years after the CMS finalized its decision to screen for hepatitis C in Medicare beneficiaries.
An estimated 1.2 million people in the U.S. live with chronic hepatitis B, and up to 25% of them develop serious liver problems.
The U.S. death rate for persons with hepatitis B infection in 2010 was an estimated 0.5% per 100,000. The highest death rates occurred in mostly male and minority persons aged 55 to 64 years old, according to federal data.
The CMS is seeking comments on its proposal by Aug. 7.