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New Law Cuts Prisoner Medical Costs for Pennsylvania, Counties

Pennsylvania and its 67 counties are saving money on their prisoners' medical bills because of a state law that took effect this summer.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon said he expects a decline in the county's inmate medical costs from this point forward, because inmates who qualified for Medicaid before they were incarcerated can now be covered by the federal aid program as they serve time.

"People in the jail, whether the county jail or whether the state penitentiary, who need in-hospital medical care will be remunerated at the Medicaid rates," said Dixon. "We feel in Allegheny County, at least projecting what we've paid in the past, that this will amount to a savings between $500,000 and $750,000 [annually]."

That translates into about 5% shaved off of the county's annual prisoner medical bill of $12 million. If the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections experienced similar cost-savings, its "Inmate Medical Care" line item for 2011-2012 would be reduced by about $12 million, for a total cost of $231.5 million.

Dixon said the Medicaid and Medicare coverage applies to all sorts of outpatient visits needed by prisoners.

"Of the approximately 27,000 inmates in the [county] jail per year, there's between 3,000 and 4,000 people who have outpatient visits," said Dixon. "Now, all of them are not going to be hospitalized. There are several hundred that are hospitalized, but there are comparable savings for people who are seen as outpatients as well."

Dixon said some common outpatient services provided to prisoners include mental health treatment and drug and alcohol programs.

Prisoners who met the eligibility requirements for federal aid before incarceration are involuntarily enrolled upon entry to a correctional facility, said Dixon, even if they hadn't signed up previously.

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