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With prisoners left out, state’s work on hepatitis C drug access is far from over

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Massachusetts’ decision to lift restrictions on hepatitis C treatment for MassHealth patients is laudable (“Wider access to hep C drugs is humane and pragmatic,” Editorial, July 29), but those and other restrictions remain in place for the more than 1,500 state prisoners with hepatitis C, for whom the state is also responsible. This is despite the high prevalence — more than 15 percent — of hepatitis C among prisoners.

Since 2013, MassHealth has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to cure patients, but the state has made no meaningful investment to cure prisoners, who instead face avoidable and possibly lethal complications.

To these hundreds of prisoners, it doesn't really matter who bears more blame: the pharmaceutical companies that aggressively priced drugs for a disease they knew predominated in prisons; the federal government, which enabled such pricing and excluded prisoners from Medicaid or other discounts; the state, which made a financial commitment to curing MassHealth patients but not the prisoners in its care; or the private medical contractor hired to treat these prisoners, which appears to use restrictions and delays to avoid prescribing the medicines. What matters to these prisoners is that they will suffer needlessly.


Eliminating hepatitis C altogether is a worthy goal, but that work cannot even begin until restrictions are lifted on the treatment of Massachusetts prisoners, more than 95 percent of whom will one day return to their communities.

Joel H. Thompson

Staff attorney

Prisoners’ Legal Services


Prisoners' Legal Services is co-counsel with attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild, representing the plaintiff class of all Department of Correction prisoners with hepatitis C, in litigation challenging the adequacy of hepatitis C treatment in the state prisons.