California prison inmates with hepatitis C are being denied curative treatment that relies on expensive new drugs, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Sacramento.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Sacramento attorneys Mark E. Merin and Fred J. Hiestand. The 18 prisoners named as plaintiffs all have hepatitis C and “seek to require” the prison health care system to provide them and other inmates who have the viral infection with the new drugs.
The state’s alleged refusal to provide prisoners the curative treatment for hepatitis C not only harms the inmates, but threatens society as a whole, the attorneys argue.
“Hep C spreads through the society by contact with infected blood. When prisoners with Hep C are released, their viral infections can easily be spread to others,” states a news release issued by the attorneys, who say 19,000 people in the United States died last year from hepatitis C.
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The viral infection causes inflammation of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
The plaintiffs allege that they have been denied the curative treatment, with doctors giving various reasons, including that the patients are not sick enough to qualify for treatment, that the disease is too far advanced, or that the drugs are cost prohibitive.
Merin acknowledged that treatment with the new drugs is expensive, costing up to $40,000, but said he believes the state could negotiate a much lower price, based on the volume of the drug it needs.
As of Jan. 12, 18,389 inmate-patients had been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an email.
As of Wednesday, she said, the department had not been served with the lawsuit.
Among those named as defendants, along with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, are receivers J. Clark Kelso and California Correctional Health Care Services. The federal court in 2006 appointed a receiver to manage the delivery of medical care in California prisons after finding that the state had failed to provide proper medical care.
Elizabeth Gransee, a spokeswoman for California Correctional Health Care Services, said in an email that hepatitis C treatment for inmates is based on guidelines provided by the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease.
Those who would not be candidates for treatment, she said, are patients with a life expectancy of less than 12 months whose condition would not be improved by the treatment; patients unable to cooperate with treatment; patients who are pregnant or unable to practice contraception; patients in reception centers, unless they are in a high-risk group; and patients who would be released from prison before completing their treatment.