Nearly 600 Kansas inmates have tested positive for hepatitis C, but corrections officials are focusing on treating only the most advanced cases because they don't have the money to treat them all.
Corrections Interim Secretary Roger Werholtz told the Wichita Eagle that the department wants to ensure that all infected inmates get treated before their release.
"We don't want them carrying the disease out of the facility," Werholtz said.
But due to budget constraints and the high cost of treatment — a 12-week course costs about $15,000 per inmate — the state will focus on the most serious cases first. Werholtz said 43 inmates are considered a high priority for treatment.
The Kansas Department of Corrections estimates that treating all 591 inmates would cost roughly $9 million, and a state contract with Corizon Correctional Healthcare sets aside only $1.5 million per year for treatment.
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 the sharing of needles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several states, including Missouri, Colorado and Illinois, have faced lawsuits over allegations of poor or lacking treatment for inmates with hepatitis C.
Werholtz said lawmakers have voiced concerns about the lack of funding for treatment.
"It seems to me the sooner we get on this and get it corrected, the less going forward it's going to cost," said Republican Sen. Rick Billinger. "I think going forward, it would save us a lot of money."
Since the Department of Corrections started testing inmates in October, 25 inmates have completed treatment and 35 are currently undergoing treatment. The agency aims to have 100 inmates to have finished treatment by the end of June.
Information from The Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com