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The Alabama Medicaid Agency (AMA) has removed its requirement for patients with hepatitis C to be drug and alcohol-free before receiving treatment after some said the rule was discriminatory.

Before the change went into effect Saturday, patients were required to have a lab screening to prove they had not used alcohol or any illicit drug in the past six months. They would also have to agree to remain sober throughout the treatment to be given prior authorization.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection affecting the liver, causing damaging inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Drugs and alcohol can also have harmful effects on the liver, which is partly why the AMA had the requirement in place.

The rule change comes after AIDS Alabama and the Harvard Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice claiming the requirement violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against people with drug and alcohol addictions. The complaint also argued the rules could cause many people with the disease not to seek treatment.

"The scientific consensus is that DAAs (direct-acting antivirals) are equally effective for patients that use drugs and alcohol prior to or during treatment," the complaint stated. "As such, the standard of care is to provide DAA treatment to every patient with chronic HCV, regardless of drug or alcohol use... The [AMA's] policy has the effect of eliminating access to effective and life-saving DAA treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries with (substance abuse disorder) in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disability Act."

According to the Center, Alabama is now among 14 states plus Washington D.C. to remove prior authorizations for most Medicaid patients.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com.

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