Eliminating Hepatitis C Means Treating Prisoners

Barry Michaelson is one of several people with hepatitis C who have sued this year to get access to new and very expensive treatments for the virus. But Michaelson’s lawsuit, unlike most of the others, isn’t against his insurance company. He’s suing the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

In May, Michaelson and another inmate filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Minnesota prisoners to gain access to new, highly effective drugs for hepatitis C, a virus that’s now essentially curable but can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer if left untreated. In the weeks since, similar lawsuits have been filed by inmates in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

It wasn’t until 1992 that we could even test for the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Now we effectively have a cure, but at about $84,000 a person, it’s one of the most expensive drugs to ever hit the market. Insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, are paying for treatment only for people with advanced liver disease in most cases, causing experts to push the White House to expand treatment. But prisoners, though they are the only group in the U.S. with a constitutional right to health care, are even more limited in access to treatment.

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