Philly Jails to Spend $9 Million on Hepatitis C Treatment
Nina Feldman - October 30, 2019
The Philadelphia Department of Prisons has started testing all inmates for hepatitis C and treating those who will be incarcerated long enough to be cured. Officials at the jail estimate they will cure 700 people in the course of a year, costing $9 million in city funds.
The move comes on the heels of a settlement resulting from a 2018 class-action lawsuit in which the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections agreed to provide hepatitis C treatment to inmates. Philadelphia civil rights attorney David Rudovsky litigated the suit on behalf of the inmates and built a case that hepatitis C needed to be treated at all stages, not just the more advanced ones because it can cause difficult health issues even early on. Plus, the longer someone has the viral infection, the harder it is to treat.
The argument also centered on the opportunity to treat inmates from a public health standpoint: Hepatitis C can be cured, and if patients are treated while incarcerated, they can’t infect other people when released.
As a result of the settlement, the state Corrections Department started offering treatment to all inmates with hepatitis C last year. It is required to offer treatment to 1,500 inmates in the first year and 1,500 in the second, statewide.
The settlement set a precedent. Rudovsky approached the city and said if the jails didn’t do the same thing, legal action would be brought.
“From the beginning, they said, look, we understand that it’s worth it from a public health standpoint,” Rudovsky said of city officials. “The response early on was just, this is a significant cost.”
Not only is it expensive, but it’s also harder to treat hepatitis C at a jail than at a prison, because inmates stay in jail for a shorter and often unpredictable period, making the four months necessary to complete treatment tricky to guarantee. But jail officials were eager to comply with the new standard of care. They signed on to a legal agreement with the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, which set guidelines for the inmates’ treatment.
Rudovsky said Philadelphia’s jail system is the only one he knows of nationwide testing and treating hepatitis C on this scale.
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