October 29, 2020

Landmark Settlement Requiring Missouri Department of Corrections to Provide Lifesaving Hepatitis C Treatment to Thousands Behind Bars Approved

St. LouisAfter a settlement was reached in August of this year, the United States District Court Judge Nanette K. Laughrey gave final approval to the landmark settlement reached between the plaintiffs, represented by MacArthur Justice Center, Wilkinson Walsh LLP, and ACLU of Missouri and defendants Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Corizon Health, the department’s medical provider, ensuring that people incarcerated in Missouri’s prisons receive vital Hepatitis C treatment and education.

Hepatitis C (HCV), which can lead to life-threatening conditions including cirrhosis and liver cancer, is widespread in Missouri prisons.  Although the exact number of incarcerated people with HCV is unknown because of a lack of routine testing, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of those under the supervision, care, and custody of MDOC and Corizon are infected with HCV.

“Because of this settlement, thousands of Missourians whose lives are imperiled by untreated Hepatitis C will receive the treatment they need, which will help stop the spread of the disease to communities throughout the state,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri. “While four years of litigation have forced medical care for this serious disease to be made available the way doctors and scientists say it should be, we are saddened that lives were lost while people waited for this result and that Missouri prisoners today are still put at medical risk in other ways, including by insufficient precautions to safeguard them from Covid-19.”

“Another critical aspect of this agreement is that it increases class members’ access to information about their own personal health,” said Amy Breihan, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center of Missouri. “Too often we heard from class members that they weren’t receiving their test results or couldn’t afford their own medical records. As a result, they were in the dark about the severity of their condition or when they might receive treatment. This settlement addresses those problems head-on: MDOC and Corizon are required to share test results related to hepatitis C and give people living in prison with hepatitis C free access to their medical records.”

“Not only will individuals incarcerated in Missouri prisons receive treatment as a result of this settlement, MDOC and Corizon agreed to revamp their testing procedures to bring them in line with current recommendations,” said Betsy Henthorne of Wilkinson Walsh LLP. “Better testing will mean earlier and more accurate diagnoses, and along with other provisions in the agreement will lead to less suffering and better, faster, and more effective treatment. Wilkinson Walsh is proud to have worked with the ACLU of Missouri and MacArthur Justice Center on such an important case, and to have helped bring about a settlement that will have far-reaching effects for countless Missourians.”

During the last decade, a new class of drugs known as direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications was approved to treat HCV.  However, these drugs are expensive and were routinely denied to incarcerated people in Missouri, leading to lifelong injuries and deaths.  As a result of the settlement agreement, however:

 Over the next eight years, MDOC and Corizon will spend approximately $50 million to treat incarcerated people in Missouri with chronic HCV, beginning with the sickest individuals.

  • MDOC and Corizon will monitor individuals at high risk for serious health conditions as a result of current or past HCV infection.

  • MDOC and Corizon will provide educational materials regarding the risks of HCV, the benefits of testing, and their policies relating to treatment.

  • Corizon medical staff will receive HCV-related training.

  •  MDOC and Corizon will provide quarterly reports to Plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the progress of treatment.