Berman & Simmons announced today that under an agreement with the State, the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC) has agreed to treat all inmates in its custody who have chronic Hepatitis C. Historically, Hepatitis C patients in Maine DOC custody were only treated if they could show proof that their disease had progressed to the point of permanent liver damage. Now, all patients in Maine DOC custody – more than 500 – will be treated with curative antiviral medication.
The claim was brought by Mathiew Loisel, who is currently incarcerated at the Maine State Prison, on behalf of himself and other patients with Hepatitis C. Mr. Loisel was represented by attorneys at Berman & Simmons, PA, and Andrew Schmidt Law, PLLC. As of October 2017, the Maine Department of Corrections was aware that more than 580 Maine prisoners were infected with chronic Hepatitis C and yet were actively treating only three patients. Mr. Loisel is one of the more than 500 inmates who was denied treatment under the old Department of Corrections policies, but under the settlement agreement, will be treated within the next two years.
Berman & Simmons attorney Miriam Johnson, along with Peter Mancuso of Andrew Schmidt Law, led the negotiation over the course of the last year. “Even before COVID-19 there was a lesser known epidemic making its way through Maine’s prisons: Hepatitis C. We are pleased that Maine’s correctional system recognized a public health problem and worked with us to come up with funding and policy changes, avoiding a trial,” said attorney Johnson. “We are proud of Mathiew’s activism which brought this issue to our attention. The agreement we were able to reach with the state brings our corrections system in line with the community standard of medical care and the state’s obligations under the constitution.”
Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, communicable disease that attacks the liver, causing diminished liver function, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Even in the initial stages of the disease, Hepatitis C can cause serious symptoms, including chronic fatigue, severe depression, arthritis, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, nerve damage, jaundice, and various cancers.
Medications approved by the FDA cure Hepatitis C in more than 90 percent of cases. The clinical standard of care, endorsed by a consensus of medical experts and associations, including the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, calls for administering these direct-acting antiviral medications to all persons with chronic Hepatitis C, even in early stages of the disease.
The spread of Hepatitis C is a growing public health crisis in Maine and throughout the United States. Prevalent among incarcerated populations, it is estimated that approximately 17 percent of the US prison population is Hepatitis C positive.