How might HCV impact my current employment?

In some ways, your hepatitis C diagnosis, like any other medical condition, is no one else’s business. However, hepatitis C may be a factor in your life that impacts your employment. If you have hepatitis C but have not been diagnosed, you may be feeling weak, tired, or you may have a sensitive abdomen. These feelings can make it difficult for anyone to work effectively and to feel enthusiastic during their waking hours. It may be tough for employers to understand why your mood seems down or why you take additional bathroom breaks. Without a diagnosis, you may just think that there is something wrong that you cannot describe, you may attribute these symptoms to other areas of your life (a relationship, friendships, or other stressors), or you may just think that this is who you are. Since many symptoms of hepatitis C do not clearly indicate a major concern, this may occur indefinitely. However, a diagnosis can be both a stressful event and a clarification experience, where a medical issue becomes a reality but where the symptoms finally make sense.

After a diagnosis of hepatitis C, your doctor will want to discuss treatment options. They will look at your full medical history and consider what will be the best treatment method for your hepatitis C genotype, as well as your allergies, other medications, and the way your body is reacting to the virus itself. At this time, a treatment plan will likely include medication. Your employment may come into the situation here. This is because medications for hepatitis C are typically extremely expensive. Your doctor may require preapproval for the drug, for additional medical appointments, or for scans of your liver or kidneys as tests may be needed to assess the virus’ damage to your body, if any. Your employer is not able to find out about the insurance company’s preapproval requests or the medications you are on, nor what they are for. However, your employer may offer different health insurance plans and, depending on the time of year for your diagnosis, you may wish to reevaluate whether the plan you are currently on is best for you or whether another option is better for your overall treatment costs. If you are uncertain about these options and what plans you qualify for within the company, you can reach out to your company’s Human Resources Department. You can talk with them about coverage differences without disclosing your reason for asking. If you remain unclear about which is best, your doctor or your doctor’s billing office may be able to help guide you and the insurance websites and representatives may also be of assistance.

As you discuss your medication options with your doctor and as you begin the regimen, it is important to make sure you understand the risks of side effects, as well as your doctor’s plan to combat them if they occur. Some of the side effects may be very basic, such as dehydration, which may not impact your work life at all. In this case, you could simply carry a water bottle and people would likely think you are simply trying to be better at drinking water rather than coffee or soda. Other side effects may include rashes or depression, which could more seriously impact your daily work life. If a more obvious side effect occurs for you, it is important that you let the doctor know right away. Together, you can decide whether to change the medication, alter the dosage, or if there is an additional medication or action you can take to help your body to deal with the side effect during the medication protocol. If you need to switch medication or add a medication to your treatment plan, you may again need to contact your health insurance company to make sure that the medication is covered or work with your doctor to find a medication that is covered and that meets the needs of your hepatitis C care plan.

Lastly, it is important to become aware of the way your company handles health care plans in the event of a job termination, both through your fault and through theirs. Some companies offer to continue coverage for a period of time, some have a program to help transition former employees to another plan that is not connected to the company, and some end their coverage at the end of the month, regardless of the termination date, and without assistance in figuring out what to do next for health care. Knowing your company’s process in advance helps to ensure that you have coverage throughout your entire hepatitis C treatment process and allows you to make a back-up plan should something happen with your employment during the treatment protocol.1-4

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