Missouri Prisons Sued for Denying Hep C Treatment

What Is This Lawsuit?

This lawsuit has named three plaintiffs who are living in three different Missouri prisons who are being represented by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, Missouri and by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri. The lawsuit is being brought because these three defendants have hepatitis C and are being refused treatment within their prisons. Within the lawsuit, the lawyers say that 10-15% of prison inmates in the state have hepatitis C, though it is unclear how they came to this figure since the prison system does not regularly test for this virus so there are no consistent or accurate official records or statistics. Records show that the prison system was currently treating .011% of its inmates with hepatitis C.

Although the Missouri Department of Corrections is the focus of the lawsuit, the prison system’s medical treatment contractor Corizon, LLC (based in Tennessee) is also named, as is the former director of the state’s correctional facilities, George Lombardi. There are also additional individuals named, 21 in all, focused on doctors and others in the prison medical care system. This indicates both an overarching problem within the way the prison systems handle healthcare and potential negligence when inmates interacted with specific medical professionals.

Why Is It Necessary?

It was recently reported that the state of Missouri has paid out more than $7.5 million dollars to prison employees due to harassment allegations and the prison director resigned from his position when this news broke. Although this does not guarantee truth in the report, it indicates a problem within the prison systems where employees are consistently made unhappy. This lawsuit alleges that these unhappy employees were intentionally withholding medical treatment, including cures for hepatitis C infected inmates, as a way to torture or retaliate against the inmates who may have made the workers’ lives more stressful.

Although this action may have helped to make the employee feel better or more powerful, the ACLU alleges that this is against the law because it violates the medical needs of prisoners and doing that is considered cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, not treating hepatitis C infections as quickly as possible may have led to additional infections within the prisons due to exposure within the prison walls and in the communities after inmates were released. It may have also cost the government significant funds when treating the long-term side effects of hepatitis C because of the lack of proper treatment.

What Does It Mean?

The lawsuit is still pending, so it is currently unclear what will happen. However, the lawsuit’s filing at all is a step toward more accurate record keeping in the prison systems in Missouri, as well as an increased likelihood that inmates will be tested for hepatitis C and treated if they test positive. When these sorts of lawsuits are filed, regardless of their outcome, a light is shown on a problem. Typically, everyone involved wants to rectify the problem quickly, both to solve the issue and to prevent themselves from being named in a future lawsuit. In this case, it may lead to additional treatment and care for prisoners in Missouri. However, as the medical group named in the suit is based in Tennessee, this suit may cause the state of Tennessee to reexamine how their prison systems keep records on hepatitis C testing and treatment as well. As this continues to occur, it can create new inmate systems and this can lead to better care for inmates in numerous states, either through an expansion of a new prison protocol that is rolled out nationally or through other inmates following lawsuits against prisons in their own states, which can then lead to changes.

In addition to prison lawsuits, hepatitis C treatments for American citizens who are not incarcerated continue to be discussed. Some believe that the prison system sets a precedent for the entire country in that, if it is deemed cruel and unusual punishment to not treat prisoners with hepatitis C, it should be the same cruelty and illegality for government programs or insurance companies to refuse to cover hepatitis C medications. When these types of allegations begin to multiply, some insurance companies choose to go to court to find out whether they will be forced to cover the very expensive hepatitis C medications. Others choose to mitigate their legal costs by changing their internal rules and providing some types of approved coverage to people with hepatitis C who could not otherwise afford their treatments and medications.1-2

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