Maine Inmate Leads Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Denial of Lifesaving Hepatitis C Treatment to Hundreds of Prisoners

A Maine State Prison inmate is leading a class action lawsuit to ensure all prisoners in the state system with Hepatitis C Virus (“HCV”) have access to life-saving medication.

Mathiew Loisel is the lead plaintiff in the case against, among others, the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC), and Wellpath LLC, a private company that contracts with the State of Maine to private medical care to prisoners.

The lawsuit challenges the state’s refusal to treat hundreds of inmates diagnosed with chronic HCV until the disease has progressed to the point where they have permanent liver damage. Chronic HCV is a highly communicable and progressive disease that, if left untreated, scars the liver and can cause, among other things, cancer, excruciating pain, and death.

HCV is a growing public health crisis in Maine and throughout the United States, particularly among incarcerated populations. It has been estimated that approximately 17 percent of the prison population in the United States has HCV. Maine DOC records indicate that, as of October 2017, there were 580 inmates in the DOC custody infected with HCV, only three of whom were receiving treatment.

More than five years ago, the FDA approved breakthrough medication, known as direct acting antivirals, which has few side effects. One 8-12 week course of the medication cures 90 percent of patients, meaning that they are no longer able to transmit the disease.

“This is a grave public health issue,” said Loisel’s attorney Miriam Johnson of Berman & Simmons law firm. “The policy of denying appropriate medical treatment to prisoners with chronic HCV is not only cruel and unconstitutional; it also facilitates the spread of a dangerous and costly epidemic. This policy was inherited by the current administration. We are hopeful that the new administration will work with us to put new policies into place to resolve this issue.”

The Complaint alleges that the denial of medicine for prisoners diagnosed with chronic HCV violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. This lawsuit intends to ensure that Loisel and other inmates receive the medical care they require, and to which they are entitled.

Lead attorneys are Miriam Johnson of Berman & Simmons, and Peter Mancuso and Andrew Schmidt of Andrew Schmidt Law, PLLC.