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

Reports: Law enforcement officers shoot man on W.Va. highway

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Several law enforcement authorities shot a man on a federal highway in West Virginia, news outlets reported Wednesday, and video of the shooting was circulating on social media. Authorities did not release details or respond to requests for more information. In the video, the man walks onto the four-lane freeway near […]
19 hours ago
FILE - White House counsel Pat Cipollone departs the U.S. Capitol following defense arguments in th...
Associated Press

Trump White House counsel Cipollone to testify to 1/6 panel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pat Cipollone, Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, is scheduled to testify Friday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to a person briefed on the matter. Cipollone, whose reported resistance to Trump’s schemes to overturn his 2020 election defeat has made him a long-sought […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Inquest: Seattle police shooting of pregnant woman justified

SEATTLE (AP) — An inquest jury found Wednesday that two Seattle police officers were justified in fatally shooting a mentally unstable, pregnant, Black mother of four children inside her apartment when she menaced them with knives in 2017. The six King County coroner’s inquest jurors unanimously determined that officers Jason Anderson and Steven McNew, who […]
19 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Should red-flag law have stopped parade shooting?

CHICAGO (AP) — Days after a rooftop gunman killed seven people at a parade, attention has turned to how the assailant obtained multiple guns and whether the laws on Illinois books could have prevented the Independence Day massacre. Illinois gun laws are generally praised by gun-control advocates as tougher than in most states. But they […]
19 hours ago
Tents are shown Wednesday, July 6, 2022, inside Centennial Park in Anchorage, Alaska. State wildlif...
Associated Press

4 bears killed in Alaska campground reserved for homeless

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials have killed four black bears in a campground recently reserved for people in Anchorage who are homeless after the city’s largest shelter was closed. Employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday killed a sow and her two cubs and another adult bear that was […]
19 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

‘Taken too soon’: Remembering Highland Park shooting victims

CHICAGO (AP) — Two of the victims of a July 4 parade massacre in a Chicago suburb left behind a 2-year-old son. Another was staying with family in Illinois after he was injured in car wreck about two months earlier. For some, it was a tradition. They were avid travelers, members of their synagogue and […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
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.
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Appeals court upholds rationing of hepatitis C treatment