Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
As Hepatitis C Rates Rise in Prisons, Arizona, Other States Debate Covering Cost of Treatment
Hepatitis C "disproportionately affects" prisoners, leaving state legislatures debating how to fund the treatment of the estimated 1.4 million infected inmates in the U.S. correctional system, the Arizona Republic reports. Because inmate lifestyles are "prime incubators" for hepatitis C, nearly 30% of the prisoners in Texas are infected with the virus, as are 41% in California, 32% in Connecticut, 30% to 40% in Virginia and 38% in Maryland. Unsterilized needles used for injecting drugs, tattooing and body piercing are the most common means of viral transmission, and unprotected intercourse with multiple partners is also among the "high-risk" activities that contribute to the spread of the liver-damaging disease. In Arizona, 6,000 of the state's 26,800 inmates are infected with hepatitis C, and nearly 1,000 are eligible for treatment. However, viral testing, monitoring and treatment is costly. State Senate Appropriations Chair Ruth Solomon (D) has said that the Legislature will not include in its budget the $10 million requested by the Arizona Department of Corrections to monitor and treat the disease, or the $5 million requested by Gov. Jane Hull. Gov. Hull "intends to defend her request" for the $5 million, spokesperson Francie Noyes stated. Solomon explained that lawmakers believe the Corrections Department has a "generous budget" that could be used to treat the inmates, a claim Dr. Thomas Lutz, deputy director of health services for the department, denies. Without state funding, he said, the department will have to use its operating budget to cover the $8,700-$16,200 needed to treat each inmate. Furthermore, the Republic reports that without the funding, treatment may only be given to a small percentage of infected inmates. Dr. Thomas Boyer, director of the University of Arizona Liver Research Institute, said that although hepatitis C is not a rapidly spreading disease, the state is in a "pay-now or pay-later situation," and that without prevention and prompt treatment, the government will end up supporting those who become sick with the disease (Madrid, Arizona Republic, 2/10).
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