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Study: PA Per-Inmate Health Care Cost Down, State Bill Up

When most Pennsylvanians are incarcerated, the Department of Corrections must foot the bill for their health care costs.

That’s according to Susan Bensinger, Deputy Press Secretary, who said the department works to pay that bill in a way that provides community-standard care for the inmates while utilizing taxpayer money in the most efficient way possible.

A study released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation suggests that the department has been successful in that mission.

According to the study, the cost for healthcare per-inmate dropped 8 percent from 2007 to 2011 - from $5,088 to $4,705.

“We have really made a huge effort to be better at what we do,” Bensinger said. “Managing taxpayer dollars and using them to the best of our ability, so we’ve fine-tuned what we do as far as better case management of inmate healthcare.”

Pennsylvania had the 3rd highest decrease in health care spending per-inmate.

Bensinger said the department has become better with providing preventative screenings as well as monitoring pain management more closely.

She also credited Act 22 of 2011, which allows them to pay the Medicare rate for inmate outpatient care as well as the Medicaid rate for inmate in-patient care.

Another way the department is spending more effectively is by charging inmates a $5 co-pay for most visits to the medical center.

“That really is a deterrent from unnecessary use of the medical department while giving the inmate the opportunity when it is necessary to utilize our medical services,” Bensinger said. “Just like you or I would pay in the community, they also pay that co-pay.”

However, she said inmates with conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure do not have the co-pay and are encouraged to seek follow-up care.

Patients with conditions such as cancer are placed in specialized medical treatment centers to save on transportation and risk.

But while the cost per-inmate has decreased, the total money spent by the state rose from $219 million to $262 million due to a 30 percent jump in the inmate population.

The total state budget for prisons is about $2 billion.

According to the study, 40 of the 42 states surveyed reported a rise in number of older inmates - and Bensinger said Pennsylvania is not an exception.

But while that has risen the per-inmate cost in other states, it has not affected the commonwealth in the same way.

“We have an aging population just as everyone else across the states do,” Bensinger said. “We feel that we are just getting more efficient in the use of taxpayer dollars.”

The report showed that California had the highest per-inmate increase from $10,207 to $14,495 while Arizona had the highest decrease at a 20 percent drop.

According to Bensinger, it’s all a balancing act.

“Just like any other company or business or entity that deals with 51,000 individuals, no one is always happy all the time,” Bensinger said. “So we do get our fair share of complaints, but…it’s a community standard of healthcare across the boards, and we try and maintain that community standard.”