Del. Spending $2.4 Million a Year on Treating HIV in the Correct - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Spending $2.4 Million a Year on Treating HIV in the Corrections System

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DOVER, Del. (WBOC)- Approximately $2.4 million - that is how much the state of Delaware is spending a year to treat HIV positive people in the state corrections system.

Over the past three decades, HIV has gone from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic disease. But that management is very expensive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate it costs the average patient more than $23,000 per year. And, in the case of people in corrections systems, taxpayers are picking up that tab.

The Delaware Department of Corrections is usually treating between 70 and 80 HIV positive people in any given month. That's an extremely small portion of the overall offender population. But the $2.4 million for their treatment is more than four percent of all the department's medical spending.

Dr. Vince Carr is medical director for the Department of Corrections. He says HIV is currently the most expensive chronic disease the department has to treat people for and by a pretty wide margin. A few of the reasons are that patients sometimes only got partial treatment on the outside or have a drug resistant strain of the virus.

"That puts us in a position where it's a bit more expensive and a bit more difficult to treat," he said.

Carr says most patients were diagnosed before they ended up in the corrections system, and there are no instance of inmates contracting HIV while behind bars. He says the goal is to approximate the base level of care to the patients that would be available on the outside.

Carr understands all this might give the general public pause.

"It's a difficult situation. We have to realize that we have lots of folks, who are incarcerated, who have made some really bad choices in their lives. But that should not preclude them from getting what care is available to people on the outside."

Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, chairs the state Senate's Adult and Juvenile Corrections Committee.

"There's a moral obligation on our part, I think," he said. "A lot of people feel they are at least human beings. There's not a lot of sympathy for those who committed heinous crimes. But, nonetheless, there are constitutional mandates that must be followed."

Carr calls it a cost of doing business.

"We have a constitutional requirement that we have to treat these people honestly, fairly," he said.

Carr says while HIV is currently the most expensive chronic disease for DOC to treat, that could soon change. New guidelines from dealing with hepatitis C may soon make treating that way more expensive.

And the Delaware Department of Corrections is not alone in facing the significant expense of treating HIV. A 2009 report from Maryland estimated more than two percent of the state's inmates were infected. The report also estimates the monthly cost of treatment at almost $1,900 per person.

And a separate Council of State Governments study showed more than 24,000 HIV positive state inmates, back in 2000, nationwide.

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