Appeals court upholds rationing of hepatitis C treatment

Jul 10, 2021, 8:18 AM | Updated: 10:04 am

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Kentucky Department of Corrections can deny a life-saving but expensive hepatitis C medication to inmates, a federal appeals court ruled in a split decision. The dissenting judge in last week’s 2-1 ruling at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the majority’s opinion will condemn hundreds of prisoners to long-term organ damage and suffering, The Courier-Journal reported.

Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation and serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, and Kentucky has the highest infection rate in the United States. Newer treatments can cure nearly 100% of patients but cost $13,000 to $32,000. Because they cost so much, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has restricted use of the treatment to inmates with advanced liver scarring, or fibrosis.

The majority found that denying treatment to most of Kentucky’s 1,200 inmates with hepatitis C does not violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, said its policy aligns with the practices of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and two courts have now found the department is not violating the constitutional rights of prisoners.

Louisville attorney Greg Belzley, who represents prisoners in the class-action lawsuit, called the decision “horrendous” and said they would ask for a rehearing with the full court or petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. “Basically the majority … ruled that Kentucky prison officials don’t have to do anything to treat an inmate’s infection except sit around and watch it get worse,” he told the paper in an email.

Belzley said the department doesn’t treat any infected inmates until their liver has already become cirrhotic, and while hepatitis C is curable, cirrhosis is not. He said as of August 2019, the most recently available figures, the department had identified 1,670 prisoners as HCV-positive. Only 159 had received any treatment.

Belzley said it would cost taxpayers less to treat infected inmates in prison than to wait until they are released. Meanwhile, they are likely infect others before finally receiving treatment.

In a sharply worded dissenting opinion, Judge Jane Stranch said Kentucky’s rationing plan “shocks the conscience” and is fundamentally unfair. She noted the Centers for Disease Controls, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Veteran’s Administration and even Kentucky’s own Medicaid system recommend treatment with direct acting antivirals, or DAAs, regardless of the degree of fibrosis.

“Yet according to defendants themselves, they chose not to administer DAAs to all inmates because of the cost of the drugs, a decision that exposed inmates to ongoing suffering and long-term organ damage.”

The majority opinion upheld an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove of Lexington, who found the department’s monitoring of inmates with hepatitis C constituted treatment, and the department’s treatment plan was adequate.

Citing the Merriam-Webster definition — “the action of treating a patient or condition medically or surgically” — Stranch wrote in her dissent that “testing how far HCV has advanced in harming an inmate’s body is not treatment.”

The case was first filed on behalf of four inmates who contracted the virus — Brian Woodcock, Keath Bramblett, Ruben Rios Salinas and Jessica Lawrence. While the first two have been cured, Salinas was denied treatment and Lawrence has not received it yet, according to court documents.

The department previously denied treatment to anyone who did not have a clean conduct record for 12 months beforehand, but after the lawsuit was filed it amended the rule to cover only infractions that might compromise treatment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Police shoot and kill Wisconsin man after domestic dispute

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Police in Appleton, Wisconsin, shot and killed a man after responding to a domestic disturbance call, authorities said Saturday. The shooting happened after officers were confronted by an armed man when they were called to a home in Appleton on Friday night, the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation […]
8 hours ago
FILE- In this undated photo 14-year-old Emmett L.Till from Chicago, is shown. Till, whose battered ...
Associated Press

Troubling questions unresolved in latest end to Till case

By her own telling, Mississippi authorities provided Carolyn Bryant Donham with preferential treatment rather than prosecution after her encounter with Emmett Till led to the lynching of the Black teenager in the summer of 1955. Instead of arresting Donham on a warrant that accused her of kidnapping days after Till’s abduction, an officer passed along […]
8 hours ago
A container ships passes Pfalzgrafenstein castle in the middle of the river Rhine in Kaub, Germany,...
Associated Press

Shippers prepare for worst as Rhine levels near critical low

Shipping companies prepared to halt the transport of goods on the Rhine as water levels in Germany’s biggest river neared a critically low point Saturday. An ongoing drought affecting much of Europe has lowered rivers such as the Rhine, preventing large ships with heavy loads from passing key waypoints and forcing them to use smaller […]
8 hours ago
Children watch as workers clean up after a rocket strike on a house in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, ...
Associated Press

Russian shelling heavy in east; Ukraine strikes key bridge

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia’s military pounded residential areas across Ukraine overnight, claiming gains, as Ukrainian forces pressed a counteroffensive to try to take back an occupied southern region, striking the last working bridge over a river in the Russian-occupied Kherson region, Ukrainian authorities said Saturday. A Russian rocket attack on the city of Kramatorsk […]
8 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. ...
Associated Press

Monkeypox? Climate? Deciding what’s a national emergency

WASHINGTON (AP) — In November 1979, a little over a week after student militants seized control of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American citizens hostage, President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 12170 declaring a national emergency against Iran. That order remains in effect today, renewed most recently in the weeks before last […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Musician R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court building in Chicago on June 6, 2019. Ke...
Associated Press

R Kelly accuser to give key testimony on trial-fixing charge

CHICAGO (AP) — R. Kelly’s federal trial in Chicago that starts Monday is in many ways a do-over of his 2008 state child pornography trial, at which jurors acquitted the singer on charges that he produced a video of himself when he was around 30 having sex with a girl no older than 14. There’s […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Appeals court upholds rationing of hepatitis C treatment