June 29, 2015 — The Wall Street Journal reports that two inmates at prisons in Massachusetts have filed lawsuits against the state for failing to provide drugs that could cure them of hepatitis C.
The lawsuit (PDF) was filed on behalf of inmates Emilian Paszko and Jeffrey Fowler and seeks class action status for all Massachusetts prison inmates with hepatitis C who have been denied treatment.
Over 1,500 inmates in Massachusetts have hepatitis C, but only three are being treated for it, according to the complaint.
Both plaintiffs suffer from serious complications of hepatitis C and the illness may progress toward end-stage liver disease and death. The longer they go without treatment, the higher the chances they will spread hepatitis C to other people. This risk extends to the general population if they are released from prison.
They accuse prison officials of knowingly delaying testing of prisoners to determine whether they need treatment, which has resulted in fewer prisoners getting the treatment they need. According to the complaint:
“By not assuming the financial cost of Hepatitis C treatment, defendants are imposing a human cost on the prisoners in their care as well as on the population which will be at risk when these prisoners are released.”
In 2014, the FDA approved Gilead Sciences’ new hepatitis C treatments Harvoni and Sovaldi, which cure over 90% of people with very few side effects compared to older, less-effective treatments.
The problem is that the drugs are also far more expensive — nearly $100,000 for a full 12-week treatment. To limit its use, many states and health insurance companies have restricted treatment to patients who already have severe liver disease. Unfortunately, by the time the disease has reached this point, the patient typically has other debilitating symptoms and may have also spread hepatitis C to other people.