The Florida Justice Institute (FJI) has filed a class action lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) for failing to provide incarcerated people with life-saving medications for hepatitis C, resulting in thousands being left at risk for liver failure, liver cancer, and a very painful death. The case is brought on behalf of three prisoners—Carl Hoffer, Ronald McPherson, and Roland Molina—and seeks to certify a class of all FDC prisoners who have been, or will be, diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C. The lawsuit alleges that, although the FDC has a written policy addressing the treatment of hepatitis C, in practice it provides medications to almost no one. The lawsuit seeks an immediate injunction requiring the FDC to develop a plan to provide DAA medications to all prisoners with hepatitis C, consistent with the medical standard of care. “The FDC recognizes that hepatitis C is a serious disease that is easy to cure,” said Randall C. Berg, Jr., FJI’s Executive Director. “Yet, it routinely fails to provide lifesaving medication to people incarcerated in Florida.”
The Complaint describes how treatment of hepatitis C was revolutionized in 2013 with the advent of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs, which cure 90 – 95% of all hepatitis C patients, regardless of the form of the disease, with little to no side effects. Treatment with DAAs is a simple 12-week course of oral medications, whereas previous therapies were ineffective for most patients, had serious side effects, and required treatment for 6 months to a year.
Guidelines developed by respected medical societies, which are available at www.hcvguidelines.org and have been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), express the current medical standard of care: to provide DAA medications to all persons diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C. Even the State of Florida’s Department of Children and Families has recognized this standard, by approving Medicaid coverage for adults with chronic hepatitis C, regardless of the stage of the disease. “The FDC has a responsibility to provide adequate medical treatment to all the people in its custody,” said Erica Selig, an FJI attorney. “Withholding this simple treatment falls far short of that standard.”
The FDC states that roughly 5,000 prisoners have hepatitis C, but this understates the true number. National estimates suggest that 16% – 47% of all incarcerated people in North America have hepatitis C, meaning that there are likely 14,700 – 40,184 FDC prisoners with the disease. Yet, the FDC states that only 5 prisoners were given DAA medications as of July 2016. Treating all incarcerated individuals would have a profound public health impact by significantly reducing the spread of the disease in the general population, and saving costs in the long run by avoiding expensive care associated with advanced liver disease.
The case is Hoffer v. Jones, Case No. 4:17-CV-00214-MW/CAS, and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in the Northern District of Florida. For more information, contact Randall C. Berg, Jr., RBerg@FloridaJusticeInstitute.org.