Treatment costs up to $90,000 per inmate

(WPRI) — The Department of Corrections will spend an estimated $350,000 to treat four inmates for Hepatitis C according to officials who acknowledge the cost could balloon if more inmates fit the criteria for a new type of treatment.

Elizabeth Earls, the Department of Corrections’ Assistant Director of Rehabilitative Services, said the law requires the state to provide healthcare for prisoners. The exact number of the prison’s 3300 occupants with Hepatitis C is unknown because inmates are not required to submit to testing.

According to Earls there are currently 177 inmates diagnosed with the blood borne illness, with four of them scheduled to receive this new type of medical care that costs up to $90,000 a patient. It is said to be more effective than previous types of treatments, but also about seven times more expensive.

Earls acknowledged if more inmates fit the criteria for the new regimen the cost to taxpayers could quickly spike.

“It could be significant. I really have no way of predicting what that cost could be,” Earls said. “Certainly you can do the math of 177 times $85,000 if it’s a worst case scenario, but we don’t anticipate that would be the case. I think the unknown of this is the biggest challenge for us.”

According to Earls, previous types of Hepatitis C care cost about $12,000 per inmate and were roughly 65 percent effective.

Earls said the new medications have an estimated cure rate of 95 percent, a shorter regimen of three months and fewer side effects. But she added that not every inmate with Hepatitis C will need the higher priced treatment.

“The inmates who have been identified to receive treatment are those who are at a higher risk of developing cancer or liver disease,” Earls said. “And they might also have life threatening symptoms.”

Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall briefed the Senate Finance Committee about the Hepatitis C issues at a hearing earlier this month.

Earls added while the expense is significant, non-treatment could have a health and monetary impact on the population outside the razor wire.

“If we can treat them now and cure the disease before it becomes a cancer or advanced liver disease, then we’re saving money,” Earls said. “If you have any type of infectious disease and you can cure that infectious disease you would want to do that so that you don’t put your own communities at risk when the inmates are released.”

Earls cited national statistics that indicate up to 35 percent of the country’s prison population has Hepatitis C. That would put the number of ACI inmates with the disease above a thousand. But Earls emphasized there is no way of knowing yet how many would need the new treatment that costs up to $90,000 a patient.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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