Missouri prison officials have authorized treatment of only 15 of the 4,590 Missouri prison inmates who have been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, according to a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union this past week.
The ACLU is seeking an emergency court order to force the Missouri Department of Corrections and its medical provider, Corizon LLC, to begin testing and treating inmates with the viral infection, KCUR reported.
The motion filed Monday is the latest move in a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU contending that state prison officials and Corizon are systematically denying medical treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C.
"We're asking the court to, first of all, order the state to begin appropriate testing to know who does and does not have hepatitis C and to begin a more robust treatment of persons with hepatitis C," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Corizon and Corrections Department officials declined to comment on the motion, citing the ongoing litigation.
About 10-15 percent of Missouri's roughly 52,000 prisoners are thought to be infected with hepatitis C, according to the Corrections Department.
The class-action lawsuit could affect potentially thousands of inmates. It was certified as a class-action lawsuit in July 2017 but it had stalled while Missouri appealed the class-action ruling. An appeals court confirmed the class-action status in December.
Symptoms of hepatitis C range from mild illness to cirrhosis, which can cause death. It is the most common blood-borne viral infection in the United States, affecting about 2.4 million people in the country.
About 97 percent of inmates nationwide with hepatitis C are not getting treatment, according to a survey conducted at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved several antiviral drugs with a success rate of more than 95 percent to treat the disease. With the advent of generic drugs, the cost of an individual eight- to 12-week course of treatment has dropped from up to $90,000 or more to about $20,000.
Last year, Kansas agreed to pay for the cost of treating Medicaid patients with hepatitis C. But hundreds of infected Kansas inmates are not covered by the settlement and are awaiting treatment.