Hepatitis C costs hit hard at McNeil Island

Staff writerMay 4, 2014 

The state’s home for sexually violent predators is spending more to treat hepatitis C after one of its residents sued over allegedly being denied care for the disease.

Though the lawsuit is still ongoing, the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island has already budgeted $1.7 million more in the coming year to treat residents with hepatitis C — a funding request the Legislature approved this year.

“Two primary factors drive the increased cost: the availability of new drugs that practitioners think have a reasonable chance at making a difference and residents applying legal pressure to have access to them,” wrote Mindy Chambers, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, in an email.

DSHS runs the Special Commitment Center, which houses about 270 sex offenders who completed their prison sentences but were civilly committed after the state determined they were too dangerous to release.

Ricardo Capello, 58, has called the place home for 13 years.

Capello filed a lawsuit in April 2013 alleging that Special Commitment Center employees had denied him treatment for his hepatitis C and other medical conditions since 2001.

Since filing the lawsuit, Capello has been treated for hepatitis C, but he still has other problems that need treatment, he said in a phone interview. Capello said he’s continuing with the case because he wants more oversight of medical care at the facility.

“The state really needs to look at what is going on,” said Capello, who has been convicted of two sexually violent offenses. “You lock a person up, you’re responsible for their care.”

He added: “I don’t expect that I should have any better medical care than John Doe in society, who didn’t commit a crime. But I don’t believe people should be looking the other way on their duties.”

Capello was convicted of first-degree kidnapping with sexual motivation after prosecutors said he raped a woman at knife-point in Kent in 1991. He denied committing the crime, but spent about a decade in prison for it before being civilly committed at the McNeil Island facility in 2001.

Capello also was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse and first-degree sodomy in a rape case in Hawaii, court papers state.

DSHS is asking a U.S. District Court judge to throw out Capello’s case.

“We will let that process take its course,” wrote DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears in an email Thursday.

In the meantime, the Special Commitment Center is beginning to treat some of its 17 residents who are living with hepatitis C, Chambers said. But the center won’t be able to treat all infected residents with the $1.7 million it got from the state this year, Spears said.

Each patient’s treatment costs an average of $189,000, Chambers said, partly because of the cost of transporting and escorting residents to medical appointments off McNeil Island.

As of late April, five Special Commitment Center residents were undergoing treatment for hepatitis C, while 12 others were awaiting treatment, Chambers said.

Residents whose treatment is already underway are using an older drug regimen, but those whose treatment has yet to begin will probably use a newer, more expensive drug called sofosbuvir, Chambers said.

That drug — also known as Sovaldi — costs $84,000 for a 12-week treatment cycle, and is only one of the medications patients need.

Chambers said the higher price of Sovaldi, as well as other soon-to-be-released hepatitis C drugs, could increase the Special Commitment Center’s costs of treating the disease.

“It may be that we have to seek additional appropriations,” Chambers said.

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