Pa. DOC settles case to provide prisoners with expensive Hep C treatment

Cherri Gregg
November 24, 2018 - 6:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections settled a federal class action this week by agreeing to provide inmates access to an expensive treatment for Hepatitis C.  

"Hepatitis C is the most serious and deadly viral disease in the United States," said David Rudovsky, a civil rights attorney representing plaintiffs in a 2013 federal class action.

The suit demanded that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections provide FDA-approved direct acting anti-viral treatment for thousands of inmates suffering from Chronic Hepatitis C. The treatment, which cures nearly 95 percent of Hep-C cases, with minimal side effects, costs roughly $100,000 per patient five years ago. The cost was one of the main reasons the DOC refused to provide the treatment, except in the worst cases.

Trial was scheduled for December, but the DOC opted to settle the case and agreed to treat all inmates with Hep-C over the next three years.

"It's a great benefit for public health, it means the disease won't be transmitted by them," says Rudovsky, noting that the price of treatment has come down significantly. "On the outside, it is the only treatment available."

The first wave of inmates, all who are at the most serious state of Hepatitis C, will be treated within the next six months. Then 3,000 inmates, 1,500 a year between July 2019 and June 2021, will be treated.  The last 2,000 inmates will be treated by June 30, 2022. 

A spokesperson for the DOC sent the following statement via email:

"Providing quality health care to all inmates is a priority of the Department of Corrections. The DOC has worked hard to prioritize direct acting antiviral (DAA) medication to eligible inmate patients. In the few years that the new generation of medication has been available, the DOC has already completed DAA treatment for 650 inmates with Hepatitis C who fell within the most serious stages (F3/F4) of liver disease.  In addition, the DOC is currently providing DAA treatment to 105 individuals, including those in the more moderate stages of the disease (F2). 

To enhance its Hepatitis C treatment program, DOC began a partnership with Temple University earlier this year.  Collaboration with Temple allows the inmate Hepatitis C patients to access medical professionals in the Temple hospital system both during their time of incarceration and as part of continuity of care after release. 

The proposed settlement represents the DOC's continued commitment to prioritize treatment for Hepatitis C patients.  Under the Agreement, the DOC commits to continue to expand DAA medication treatment to eligible inmates in the earliest stages of infection (F1, F0) over the course of the next three years.

The budget for hepatitis C treatment within DOC for 2018-2019 was $13.2 million. The average per patient treatment cost is now down to about $20,000, but cases vary. That cost is expected to drop again in 2019. We don't know the total in outlying years because of the changing - likely downward - costs."