Maryland Officials Examining How to Test, Treat Inmates for Hepatitis C Infection
Maryland prison and health officials have said that hepatitis C in the state's prison system is a "larger, more expensive problem than HIV" and that the state should implement a policy to test and treat inmates for the virus, the Associated Press reports. Maryland currently has no "comprehensive" policy to address hepatitis C; the state cannot legally require inmates to be tested for either HIV or hepatitis C, and there is no set treatment policy for prisoners infected with the virus. Because testing is not mandatory, there are no statistics for how many inmates are infected with hepatitis C, and Maryland officials must work with estimates based on other states' infection rates. But Maryland currently has the second-highest rate of HIV infection among inmates, and officials say that the "close association" between HIV and hepatitis C suggests that treating all prisoners in the state infected with hepatitis C would be expensive. Maryland currently spends between $1,500 and $15,000 per inmate to treat HIV, and Dr. Tony Swetz, director of inmate health for Maryland prisons, said hepatitis C treatment could cost $12,000 to $20,000 per patient. Sharon Baucom, medical director for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is heading a task force to draft a new state policy for testing and treating inmates for hepatitis C. Baucom will base the policy on how other state and federal prison systems address the problem but added that it will be a challenge to find a policy that will be "clinically effective and cost effective" (Associated Press, 11/12).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.