Reps. question need for $1,000-a-pill treatment
A Jacksonville lawmaker is working to keep state officials from spending millions on a new drug for hepatitis C-infected prisoners that is significantly more costly than existing treatments
By David C.L. Bauer
JACKSONVILLE, Ill. — A Jacksonville lawmaker is working to keep state officials from spending millions on a new drug for hepatitis C-infected prisoners that is significantly more costly than existing treatments.
“Right now, the state of Illinois is in dire financial need and cannot afford something like this when we’re talking about cutting education and human services,” Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer said during a news conference Monday outside the Morgan County Adult Detention Center.
He was joined by state Rep. Bill Mitchell, a Forsyth Republican, and law enforcement officials from Jacksonville, South Jacksonville and Morgan County.
The discussion was about the drug Sofosbuvir, which costs about $1,000 a pill. To treat the estimated 3,750 prisoners who have the hepatitis C virus could cost taxpayers $61 million, according to some media accounts. Current treatment costs about $8 million.
The state Department of Corrections has approved the use of the drug, which goes by the brand name Sovaldi and boasts a 95 percent cure rate.
The hepatitis C virus is generally considered a mild condition but can lead to chronic liver disease in about 70 percent of its carriers. The virus is spread through exposure to the blood of an infected person and commonly through sharing needles or having sex with infected individuals.
Prisoners are screened for the virus upon admission but can decline the screening.
Corrections officials have said Sofosbuvir treatments would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Mitchell said prisoners will be treated, which is required by state law, but questioned the need for “Cadillac treatment.”
“Hepatitis C is a disease caused by engaging in risky behavior, including the intentional use of potentially tainted needles. The prisoners themselves can avoid becoming infected. That being said, we certainly need to provide treatment for those who do contract hepatitis C, and we’re already doing that. Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to pay tens of millions more for each new drug that comes onto the market,” he said.
Davidsmeyer said House Bill 6226, which he and Mitchell filed last week, remains in committee but he believes it would pass if it reaches the Legislature. It would prohibit the state Department of Corrections from prescribing the drug.
“We’re saying that we need to use common sense and keep in place the proven, cost-effective treatments already available,” Davidsmeyer said.