Colorado approves $41 million settlement to treat 2,200 prisoners with chronic hepatitis C

ACLU of Colorado filed suit against DOC in 2017

DENVER – All of the 2,200 Colorado prisoners with chronic hepatitis C are expected to be treated for the infection and will no longer have to undergo drug and alcohol treatment before they are treated under a settlement finalized Wednesday between the ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Corrections.

The ACLU says that the DOC agreed to spend $41 million between now and June 2020 to help treat the prisoners. The DOC will spend $20.5 million for this fiscal year, which runs through June 2019 for the treatments.

After that, the DOC will have to request, and subsequently spend, another $20.5 million over the next fiscal year, which runs from July 2019 through June 2020, the ACLU said.

Also a part of the settlement, according to the ACLU, is the elimination of the requirement that inmates go through drug or alcohol treatment before they can be treated for the hepatitis infection. Prisoners also won’t be denied treatment because of discipline issues.

The DOC will also have to provide the ACLU with quarterly reports on hepatitis C in state prisons and how the treatment programs are faring, the ACLU said.

The settlement, which was approved Wednesday by the Colorado State Claims Board, comes more than a year after the ACLU sued in the U.S. District Court of Colorado on behalf of four inmates who had various stages of liver deterioration because of hepatitis C. Most are serving long sentences and have been hepatitis C-positive for more than a decade.

The organization claimed in its filing that “arbitrary” limits on which prisoners can receive new treatments—which can cure the virus in significantly less time than treatments allowed just a couple of years ago—were causing thousands of prisoners to suffer and even die.

“CDOC is deliberately choosing to allow additional CDOC prisoners to die from untreated [Hepatitis C],” the suit said.

The ACLU of Colorado says the settlement is the first in the U.S. that will lead to all of a state’s prisoners being treated for their hepatitis C infections. Hepatitis C is the most-prevalent blood-borne infectious virus in the U.S.

“This is a just and humane result that will save dollars in the long run.  Early detection and treatment can help stop the spread of the disease and eliminate higher medical costs down the line that come from forcing individuals to go untreated as the disease progresses,” said Mark Silverstein, the legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. “We know that this settlement will save lives here in Colorado, and we hope that it will be a model for other states as well.”

The ACLU of Colorado also provided a statement from Tiffany Kaneta, whose father Edward Kaneta will now be eligible for treatment.

“For years, I’ve watched as he has suffered from the devastating impacts of hepatitis C, not knowing if he’d ever get access to a cure.  I’ve worried that, if he didn’t get treatment, my kids would never get to know their grandfather,” she said. “Now that I know that he will have access to life-saving treatment, I am smiling from ear to ear.”

The DOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday regarding the settlement. But spokesman Mark Fairbairn issued a statement when the lawsuit was first filed saying the department was continuing to implement the new drug treatments and that those had largely been successful.

“The treatment for Hepatitis C virus (HCV) has progressed significantly in the last several years.  The Colorado Department of Corrections has incorporated these treatment regimens into our clinical practice,” Fairbairn said at the time. “Although these new pharmaceuticals are groundbreaking and effective, we have developed and implemented policy to assess treatment needs alongside appropriated resources.  The Colorado Department of Corrections has successfully treated nearly 80 offenders since July of 2015 and eradicated the hepatitis c virus in all but one of those cases.”

Attorney Christopher Beall of Fox Rothschild LLP, which was cooperating with the ACLU of Colorado’s legal team, said the settlement agreement was “gratifying” for prisoners in Colorado and a step toward establishing a model in Colorado that can be used across the country.

“It’s gratifying to achieve such a good result, not just for prisoners in Colorado who have been suffering with this disease for so long, but also to achieve a model for states across the country that face the exact same challenges that we see in Colorado,” Beall said. “Colorado’s bold step in agreeing to fund treatment for all prisoners is not only humane, and the right thing to do, it is also definitely a good thing from a public health perspective for the state as a whole.”

Pressure from the ACLU also led the state to allow Medicaid recipients to obtain new and more effective treatments for hepatitis C earlier this year.

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