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Missouri Department Of Corrections Agrees To Expand Hep C Treatment For Inmates

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Alex Smith
/
KCUR
Joe Watson, pictured in 2018, advocated for expanding Hep C treatment for himself and other Missouri inmates.

Prisons will now be required to treat high priority inmates regardless of cost.

After a legal battle that has lasted for about four years, inmates at Missouri prisons will now get access to a new generation of drugs that can cure hepatitis C.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has settled a class action lawsuit brought by the MacArthur Justice Center and American Civil Liberties Union requiring it to screen inmates for hep C and treat them with a highly effective class of new drugs.

Amy Breihan, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Missouri office, said the settlement could save countless lives.

“This is really a tremendous settlement agreement that’s going to ensure hopefully that the life-saving treatment that has been denied for so long will no longer be denied,” Breihan said.

The settlement, which is subject to court approval, requires prisons to offer hep C screening for incoming and current inmates.

It also mandates that the Department of Corrections and Corizon Health Inc., which provides inmate health care, treat all of the highest priority hep C-positive inmates with direct acting antiviral drugs and spend a minimum of $7 million on treatment per year.

Health care experts estimate that around 17% of prison inmates in the United States have hep C.

They say that treatment of prison inmates can be one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of the infection in the general population.

Direct acting antiviral drugs, which were approved for use in the U.S. in 2013, can cure hep C, but their high cost has been a barrier to widespread use.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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