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Prisons to Reduce Hepatitis Treatment
  Philadelphia Inquirer
July 24, 2003
Mark Fazlollah
A state budget crunch is forcing Pennsylvania prisons this fall to reduce by about 75 percent the number of inmates being treated for hepatitis C.
The state currently has 8,030 inmates infected with the virus - about 23 percent of the prison population - and is treating 550, said Fred Maue, chief of medical services for the Department of Corrections. Maue said those 550 prisoners would receive their medicines, which cost $16,000 per patient for a 48- week treatment course.
But beginning in September, prisons will apply stricter eligibility rules and will focus on prisoners with a highly curable form of hepatitis C - about 15 percent of those infected. Maue estimates that 130 prisoners a year would receive treatment and that number may ultimately be reduced to less than 100. "We felt that we needed to prioritize our budget," said Maue. He added that the reduction is justified because Pennsylvania is doing better at targeting which patients could benefit from the medicine.
That approach may get the state more bang for the buck, according to Thomas Shaw-Stiffel, a specialist at Pittsburgh's Center for Liver Diseases. "It's to the patients' benefit to be more focused," said Shaw-Stiffel. "On the surface, [the reduction] may look ominous, but it may be beneficial," he noted.
Despite treatment cutbacks, Pennsylvania still provides more care than many states. For example, New Jersey is treating 33 prisoners for hepatitis C, up from treating just one inmate last year. Under the leadership of Govs. Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, Pennsylvania developed one of the most aggressive treatment programs in the nation.
The new guidelines, which are in line with national prison standards, will require inmates to have at least 18 months - up from 12 months previously - remaining on their sentence and to undergo liver biopsies before being considered for treatment.
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