Watch out for how our “leaders” try to solve this. Instead of addressing the fact that we are locking up too many people in this state and not providing health care to people before they get to prison, we are going to charge the prisoners co-pays and talk about their complaints are not valid.
By Savannah Morning News
Created 2007-09-29 23:30
ATLANTA – As more inmates enter Georgia’s prisons, the price tag for their medical care is growing.
“My medical costs are going to go up $25 million this year to almost $200 million,” said Department of Corrections Commissioner James Donald, who will be asking lawmakers for the additional money in next year’s state budget.
He recently told the Board of Corrections that the $25 million for health care was just part of the $103 million increase in prison funding that he is requesting.
“This is the bare minimum to have a safe system,” Donald said about the growing price tag, which is about the same amount of extra money he asked for this year.
The expense is partly because of a growing prison system that in the past year has seen 21,000 inmates incarcerated but only 18,000 released.
The jumps in care and drug expenses also have added to the price tag and forced the agency to look for ways to rein in the costs footed by taxpayers while still meeting prisoners’ constitutionally protected rights to have access to health care.
Those ideas include treating more inmates inside the prisons and using video technology that allows doctors and psychiatrists to check inmates remotely.
Prison officials also began distributing handouts to inmates summarizing their health-care benefits in the hopes it will cut down on frivolous medical complaints.
“We are trying to do things that make better sense,” said Alan Adams, the Corrections Department’s director of health services.
It’s a balancing act, prison officials say, because not providing proper treatment can result in formal complaints from inmates that, if legitimate, could lead to federal intervention.
California’s prison medical system was taken over last year after a federal judge found that it violated the Eighth Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment.
Adams said he does not know of any current cases against the Georgia system because of inadequate health care access.
But the department is on the defensive about a recent scathing report state auditors compiled that criticizes the prison health-care system’s performance.
The report found that the department’s Office of Health Services, which is responsible for overseeing care in the system, dropped more than half its staff in the past three years. The cuts threaten the department’s ability to monitor its clinics, review inmate deaths and address recommendations from experts, the auditors wrote.
Coupled with the trend that the prison population is growing faster than the doctors, nurses and dentists who see them, the strains could make the department vulnerable to lawsuits, the report concluded.
Donald said he eliminated about 100 positions from the central office because many positions overlapped.
“I did cut my central office in half, but where the people need to be is out in the clinics,” he said.
Gripes not valid
Corrections board member Tom Salter attacked the audit findings more bluntly in a recent meeting, pointing out that none of 150 health-care grievances inmates have filed against the department were found valid.
“Nowhere in this glossy report do I found that they (the auditors) went down and talked to the inmate and asked, ‘Did you get your diabetes medicine?’ ” he said.
Corrections officials said they were addressing another criticism in the audit that the department is susceptible to dental claims because of a shortage of dentists.
Adams said officials targeted dental budget cuts over other health treatments but added the agency is beefing back up, hiring six dentists and assistants with recent state funding and asking for more appropriations.
When inmates enter the state prison system, their health is one of the areas considered before they are assigned to a facility. Some of the smaller facilities do not have full-time doctors.
Those with serious health concerns go to Augusta State Medical Prison, which includes room for more than 130 acute-care inmates and a dialysis center.
Since the late 1990s, Georgia Correctional HealthCare, a division of the Medical College of Georgia, has managed the physical care inside the prisons and negotiated contracts for outside health providers when inmates have to go to a hospital or clinic for treatment.
Prison officials want to handle even more procedures inside their gates.
They plan to start a surgical unit at a maximum-security prison in Reidsville that could handle as many as 2,400 surgeries a year. The procedures would be similar to ones the general public undergoes on an outpatient basis, from urology cases to some types of orthopedic problems.The agency is waiting to find out if it needs approval from another state agency before opening the unit.
In the medication area, prison health officials already have gone to mostly generic drugs to cut costs.
They also have looked to Texas, which sends electronic prescriptions to a central pharmacy that fills and ships them to the prisons by truck.
Georgia corrections officials plan to once again push legislation at the Capitol next year charging inmates a co-pay for their prescriptions, with certain exceptions. They maintain it would discourage unnecessary medicine requests.
Inmates already are charged a $5 co-pay for health care visits unless it is an emergency or a follow up on a chronic condition like diabetes.
While the health-care cost per inmate grew nearly 4.6 percent in the past five years to $8.86 a day, system officials argue the increase was less than for the general public.
Bob Bradford, managing director for MCG’s Georgia Correctional HealthCare, pointed out that cost increases for those covered by Medicaid have been in the double digits. He said the prison system health-care costs are 23 percent less than the rest of Georgia and 29 percent less than the national average when compared to figures from the Georgia Hospital Association.
“We’re growing, but we’re growing much more slowly than other health providers are,” Bradford said.
Filed under: Corrections (general), Corrections and HIV, Georgia, Georgia Politics, Health Care Policy, HIV Treatment, Mental Health, The South and HIV, The Southern States Tagged: | health care cost, prisoners