DENVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking to expand Medicaid patients’ access to a new generation of drugs that have been successful in treating the hepatitis C virus.

It follows lawsuits in other states pushing for government insurance to cover the advanced drugs, which can cost $40,000 or more for a 12-week course of treatment. Private health insurers cover the drug treatments for patients with the blood-borne virus, which can cause liver failure and cancer, the Colorado suit says.

The claim says Medicaid patients can get the drugs only after their livers have suffered some scarring, The Denver Post reported ( ). The ACLU is representing Robert Lee Cunningham, who was denied coverage for the drug because he had not “suffered measurable and potentially irreversible liver damage.”

The group is suing the department that operates the state’s Medicaid program. The Department of Health Care Policy and Financing had no immediate comment.

The Colorado department did expand coverage on Sept. 1 for patients with a lesser amount of scarring. It also granted coverage to women who plan to become pregnant. The state says 14,400 people with Medicaid coverage have the virus.

Those patients, the suit alleges, are “being unduly subjected to a second-class standard of health insurance coverage for the sole reason they are poor.”

The ACLU filed a similar suit in Indiana. Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts and New York have recently expanded Medicaid access to drugs that can eliminate the virus in 90 percent of cases.

Information from: The Denver Post,