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Policy & Politics
New York: Hepatitis C Treatment Rules Continue to Draw Criticism

March 18, 2004

New York state's refusal to treat hepatitis C-infected inmates serving short sentences does not jeopardize their chances of ultimately beating the virus, the prison system's top doctor told skeptical state Assembly committee chairs Tuesday. "We just don't feel it's wise to start something we can't finish," said Dr. Lester Wright, chief medical officer for the state Department of Correctional Services, adding that hepatitis C is unlike other diseases in state prisons -- such as HIV or TB -- that compel immediate treatment upon detection.

The Assembly's health committee chair, Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), and Jeffrion Aubry (D-Queens), chair of the Assembly's corrections committee, remained critical of the prison's policy of treating HCV-infected inmates only if they are incarcerated for the year needed to complete the drug regimen. Consequently, just a few hundred of the estimated 9,200 inmates who show signs of HCV infection are treated while incarcerated.

According to Wright, released inmates do not have particularly good histories of follow-up with doctors and sticking to health care routines. Prison officials have also had difficulty in lining up HCV-treatment programs outside of prisons for inmates released unexpectedly, prior to treatment conclusion. "Treatment ends up with large gaps in it, which is not good health care," said Wright. Discontinuing the treatment schedule could make later attempts to treat HCV impossible, added Wright.

Gottfried said treatment for inmates is often delayed because they cannot become immediately eligible for Medicaid upon their release, and he urged for a plan allowing the paperwork for Medicaid to be started well in advance of the end of inmates' sentences. Dr. Guthrie Birkhead, director of New York's AIDS Institute, said social service officials are hesitant to accept Medicaid applications for people who do not apply in person and who are not currently living in the local district.

Back to other news for March 18, 2004

Excerpted from:
Associated Press
03.15.04; Joel Stashenko

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