As outlined in a recent press release and article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, plaintiffs’ counsel announced a proposed landmark settlement in a class action lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that, if approved, will provide much-needed medical treatment for thousands of prisoners with Chronic Hepatitis C.
In 2014, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin, and Dechert, LLP, filed a federal civil rights class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of all incarcerated people in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“DOC”) with Chronic Hepatitis C.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, the Pennsylvania DOC housed over 5,000 inmates with Chronic Hepatitis C who had not been treated with Direct Acting Anti-Viral Drugs (“DAA”), which is the standard of care. Treatment with DAA cures well over 90% of patients with Hepatitis C.
Chronic Hepatitis C is the most lethal of all viral illnesses in the United States. Left untreated, the virus will eventually cause liver failure, high risks of liver cancer, and death. “The new DAA treatment is highly effective in curing the disease with a simple regimen of pills and without serious side effects,” explained Su Ming Yeh, Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “The health of thousands of prisoners will be improved now that they will have access to this potentially life-saving medication.”
Dr. Stacey B. Trooskin, director of the Viral Hepatitis Program at Philadelphia FIGHT and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, emphasized the importance of the prison population in the fight against Hepatitis C: “We have to be looking to treating individuals who are incarcerated,” she said. “If we’re really going to be talking about eliminating hepatitis C from our community, it is a critical piece of it.”
Under the proposed Settlement Agreement, all current and future inmates in the Pennsylvania DOC suffering from Chronic Hepatitis C will receive DAA treatment, unless there are medical contraindications for this treatment regimen. The Agreement provides that patients with the most advanced symptoms of Hepatitis C—those with a Fibrosis Score of F-2, F-3, or F-4—will be treated within six months of diagnosis. Further, the DOC agrees to treat 3,000 inmates from 2019 to 2021 and 2,000 inmates from 2021 to 2022. From then on, the DOC will treat all incoming inmates with Chronic Hepatitis C as part of its general medical care program.
“We believe that this settlement, if approved by the Court, will be a landmark in medical care in our state prisons and will greatly advance public health in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania DOC has taken an important step in health care that puts them at the forefront of care for people with Chronic Hep C,” stated David Rudovsky.