October 30, 2013

Maine curbing per-prisoner health care costs

A study also shows huge increases elsewhere, including a 300 percent rise in New Hampshire.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Interactive map: Inmate health care expenses by state
Click below to compare how much money states spend on inmate health care.

Health care spending is only one component of prison costs.

A separate report by the Vera Institute of Justice found that Maine spent $46,400 per prisoner annually on overall incarceration in 2012.

California estimates it could save $70 million a year by making greater use of Medicaid funding for health care of inmates outside prison walls, according to the Pew study’s authors.

California saved $20 million over three years granting medical furloughs to a total of 47 old and infirm prisoners, they said.

Maria Schiff, author of the Pew study, said increased use of Medicaid can save states money on prisoner health care even if the state, as is the case with Maine, has not enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act.

“Regardless of a state’s Medicaid expansion plans, enrolling eligible inmates in Medicaid is a strategy that can reduce prison health care costs, as Mississippi, New York and other states have shown,” she said. “Medicaid expansion creates an even greater opportunity for states using this strategy, and that is one of several factors worth considering as policymakers weigh this decision.”

Fish was unable to say how much Maine uses Medicaid funding for prisoner health care savings. State prisons are only one facet of the state’s incarceration expense.

Mark Westrum, administrator for Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, also is chairman of the state Board of Corrections, which establishes the budgets for county jails. He said counties have piggy-backed on the state’s bidding process and joined together to share resources like health care administration and medical services as a way to save money.

“We get them fresh off the street when they’re at their worst,” Westrum said of inmates. “By the time the state gets them, we at the county level have been able to stabilize them.”

“Our pharmaceutical costs are very high and it’s very hard to manage because of the people we get in here,” he said.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said the county jails are like the emergency room, where the most acutely ill inmates arrive and need specialized care. By the time inmates are sentenced to prison, they have been stabilized and the prison health care is more like a long-term care facility.

To view the complete report, go to: www.pewstates.org

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:dhench@pressherald.com

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