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updated: 5/7/2014 4:44 PM

Prison agency says hepatitis drug not as costly as feared

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- A new hepatitis drug likely won't be as costly as initially reported, according to Illinois prison officials.

Authorities worried Sovaldi could cost the Illinois Department of Corrections tens of millions of dollars if it was used to treat inmates who have the blood-borne infection. But the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises reported the drug would cost less than $6 million if it's used.

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Studies have shown the medication has a cure rate of 95 percent.

Illinois lawmakers introduced legislation banning the agency from using the drug that can cost as much as $61,000 for a single dose, but the measure has been stalled in Springfield with just weeks left in the legislation session.

IDOC spokesman Tom Shaer said the previous cost estimates were "wildly inaccurate" and said the legislation isn't necessary.

"IDOC respects the earnest efforts of legislators who share our desire to save taxpayer dollars, but this bill is unnecessary and appears borne of inadequate information," he said in a statement.

Corrections officials have said whether an inmate would be treated with Sovaldi would be decided on a case-by-case basis depending on the extent of the disease, the inmate's overall health and his sentence.

When admitted to prison, inmates, unless they refuse, are screened for the disease, which when left untreated can lead to liver failure and death.

Shaer said failing to treat inmates could lead to costly litigation.

"Health care of inmates is not an IDOC choice," he said. "It is a legal and constitutional matter, not a legislative one."

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