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Positive Hep C Test Could Mean Insurance Denial

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It sounds like reasonable advice: The government is urging all baby boomers to get tested for the hepatitis C virus, which people often don't realize they have and which can damage or destroy the liver.

Except there's one little complication, as points out: A positive result on your hep C test could torpedo your chances of getting insurance if you're uninsured, or hoping to buy more insurance, such as long-term care.

As reporter JoNel Aleccia writes, "Experts in health insurance, life insurance and long-term care insurance warn that boomers who test positive for the blood-borne virus before being approved may dash their chances for coverage."

"I would never, ever tell anybody to delay getting any kind of medical exam," Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, told "But you have an advantage over the insurance company if you apply for insurance before undergoing any kind of medical checkups."

About two out of three people diagnosed with hepatitis C have health insurance, but about a third of those diagnosed do not, and CDC officials acknowledge the problem with getting coverage following a positive test.

"Considerations regarding insurance coverage are real, affecting individuals and their loved ones ... " the CDC's John Ward, director of the division of viral hepatitis, said in a statement to " ... These issues are ones we must continue to consider as part of any implementation of these recommendations."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had proposed guidelines in May that all baby boomers get tested at least once for the virus, which is transmitted through contaminated blood and organs.

Hepatitis C was widely transmitted through routine medical practices, such as blood transfusions, before the virus was identified in 1989 and before widespread screening of the U.S. blood supply began in 1992. Injection drug use and tattooing also contributed to the problem.

According to the CDC, one in 30 boomers -- those born between 1945 and 1965 -- has been infected with hepatitis C and most do not know it. Hepatitis C causes serious liver diseases, including liver cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.

But with new treatments now available, "we can prevent tens of thousands of deaths from hepatitis C,"  CDC director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., said in a prepared statement last month.

The CDC's proposed guidelines, which could see a final ruling later this year, is aimed at getting some 800,000 baby boomers into treatment and potentially saving more than 120,000 lives, according to the federal agency.

Under the Obama administration's health reform law, insurers would not be able to reject adults with hepatitis C or another pre-existing condition starting in 2014. But the Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on overturning all or part of the law, so the consequences remain unclear.

In other health news:

AMA bucks government guidelines on mammography. The American Medical Association has come out in support of routine screening mammography for women starting at age 40, reports ABC News. The new policy is in direct conflict with the controversial 2009 recommendation of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) that routine screening mammography for breast cancer was unnecessary in women younger than 50.

Psoriasis tied to higher risk of diabetes. Reuters reports that people with the chronic skin condition psoriasis may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as well, according to a new study of the medical records of more than half a million Britons. Researchers found that was especially true in those with severe psoriasis, who were 46 percent more likely to get a diabetes diagnosis than people without the condition, after weight and other health measures were taken into account.

Anxiety disorders diagnosed in women more often than men. New research shows that women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders-and the reasons range from hormonal fluctuations to brain chemistry to upbringing to empathy, the Wall Street Journal reports. Women may be more anxious because they tend to take responsibility for other peoples' happiness, especially their children's and spouse's. Women also seem to have a more active "uh oh" signal in the brain that registers when they know they've made a mistake, according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

How do you cook on Mars? Even on Mars, you gotta eat. So Cornell University is training nine elite trainees who are preparing for a simulated space mission. They are spending a week learning how to cook on Mars, the website Popsci reports. The project, called HI-SEAS, is intended to help build a strategy for feeding a human Mars colony and exploring the hypothesis that giving astronauts a choice of tasty foods and allowing them to prepare their own space cuisine will significantly improve morale.

Photo credit: CDC/Amanda Mills 2011

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