From the Associated Press
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Medicaid beneficiaries in Kansas infected with Hepatitis C will be able to receive the treatment they need regardless of how far their disease has progressed, according to a settlement.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree on Monday signed the agreement in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas on behalf of enrollees in the privatized Medicaid program, also known as KanCare. The lawsuit filed last year challenged a Kansas policy that restricted the expensive treatment using direct-acting antiviral drugs to only the sickest Medicaid beneficiaries.
Without this treatment, a patient’s liver damage grows more severe and the risk of complications from the disease increases, depriving them of a cure, the ACLU had argued in its complaint.
The federal lawsuit filed in Kansas is among several nationwide demanding state Medicaid programs cover the costly, direct-acting antiviral drugs that have a 90 percent cure rate.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver and can turn into a chronic disease. It’s spread when the blood of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person, such as with the sharing of needles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to the 335 people who asked for Hepatitis C virus drug therapy but were initially denied treatment since 2016, another 2,600 Medicaid enrollees in the state suffer from the disease and will now have immediate access to these drugs, said J. Stan Sexton, an attorney with Shook, Hardy & Bacon who worked with the ACLU on the case.
The severity of Hepatitis C is measured by a fibrosis score, which assesses the health of the liver according to the level of liver scarring. In the settlement, the parties agree the Kansas Medicaid program will treat patients with the direct-acting antiviral drugs, regardless of that score, according to medical guidelines.
“We are thrilled that our clients will get the help they need,” said Lauren Bonds, interim executive [director] of ACLU of Kansas.
Despite their cost, these drugs are now the standard of care, the ACLU said in a news release.
An estimated 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic Hepatitis C. The U.S. Census Bureau in 2014 estimated that nearly 35,000 Kansans suffer from the disease, according to the lawsuit.