Of the 3.5 million Americans with hepatitis C, one-third are in prison. Curing hepatitis C in the prison population could result in infection rates plummeting.
An estimated 3.5 million people in the U.S. are infected with hepatitis C, and a third of them pass through prisons and jails every year. For doctors and public health experts, this is an opportunity: wiping out the virus in prison can lower infection rates nationwide. Prisons see sticker shock: Drugs cost as much as $1,000 a day, with a course of treatment running upwards of $80,000, not including lab work or other costs.
Faced with that budget choice, most jails and prisons have done little. But the federal government and a handful of states recently have quietly changed their approach — at a substantial price.
In New York, state prison spending on hepatitis C drugs increased more than 350% in the last two years alone, from $9.4 million in 2014 to a projected $44 million in 2016. Similar increases can be seen in California and the federal Bureau of Prisons, two large prison systems now treating hepatitis C on a large scale.