June 11, 2013A group of about 50 advocates dressed in black and white T-shirts with "Vocal New York" printed across their fronts crowded the Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol; signs, that said, "Hep C Testing = Saved Lives," and "Fight Hep C," waved in the air; chants of, "No justice, no peace," and "End Hep-C" reverberated up and down the staircase.
"You are all making history here," Assemblyman Zebrowski said to the group of advocates from Vocal New York, a grassroots advocacy group that speaks on the behalf of low-income people, and concerned individuals as they rallied behind a bill (A.1286/S.2750) — the first piece of legislation of its kind nationally — to add a new section to the public health law requiring certain health service providers to offer Hepatitis-C tests to people born between 1945 and 1965. And if the test should come out positive the provider must offer follow-up health care ¬— or refer the infected individual to a provider who can — including a Hepatitis-C diagnostic test.
The bill also requires the state health commissioner to evaluate the impact of the legislation and report the findings to the governor and Legislature.
The bill passed in the Assembly on Monday and advanced into its third reading in the Senate on the same day. The bill was sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, whose father, also an assemblyman, died in 2007 of Hepatitis-C. "Three to five million people have Hep-C and most of them don't even know," Zebrowski said. He seemed optimistic about the possibility of the bill passing in the Senate saying that all it needs is a "little push."
"We will get this all signed into law."
Assemblywoman Joan Millman, D-Brooklyn, who co-sponsored the bill, said her message was simple, "We need to pass this bill."
The rally was emceed by Bobby Tolbert, a board member of Vocal New York, who tried to buy time for Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, to arrive to the press event by opening the floor to personal testimonies. One such testimony was given by a Diane Nunez who was diagnosed with Hepatitis-C in 1998 and went for treatment in 2003. "This is a pandemic in our communities," said Nunez, "We have to end Hep-C."
Hadiyah Charles, a longtime advocate HIV/AIDES prevention associated with the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Coalition, praised New York for taking a big step in national history and said that with this legislation "New York should cause a domino effect" of other states passing similar legislation.
Sammy Santiago, a concerned individual who was tested in 1996 for Hepatitis-C and was declared "undetectable" and earlier this year found out he had cirrhosis of the liver, has been getting treatment for Hepatitis-C for four months. "In the first four weeks I was declared undetectable again," Santiago said. Santiago stressed the importance of getting tested for Hepatitis-C, "That's what's important: we all need to be educated."
George Santana of the CitiWide Harm Reduction Coalition spoke about his experience after being diagnosed with Hepatitis-C. "I've done the treatment. It sucks, anyone who has done it knows what I'm saying, but it was worth it," Santana said. "We must continue to fight, because I know deep in my heart this bill will pass."