Pennsylvania per-inmate cost of prison medical services drops 8 percent
Pennsylvania's work to rein in spending on health care for prisoners led to an 8 percent drop in the per-inmate cost of medical services over five years, according to a report Tuesday from two nonprofit organizations.
But the state's overall bill for prisoner health care ballooned 20 percent over that period as the inmate population swelled by 30 percent, data in the report by Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation show.
The findings buck a national trend of higher per-inmate medical costs, driven by a growing cohort of older prisoners who require care. The state was one of nine to show a decline from 2007 to 2011.
“Health care and prisons have been two of the fastest-growing areas in state budgets,” said Maria Schiff, director of the State Health Care Spending Project, a joint initiative of Pew and MacArthur.
“We did see a trend that states with older inmates tended to spend more on health care on a per-inmate basis,” Schiff said.
That didn't hold true in Pennsylvania, where 8.9 percent of inmates are 55 or older — putting Pennsylvania in the top 10 among states for the age of its prisoners.
The per-inmate cost dropped from $5,088 in 2007 to $4,705 in 2011. The state spent $262 million on prisoner health care in 2011, up from $219 million in 2007. The average daily inmate population grew from 42,998 to 55,696 over the period.
Susan Bensinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said several initiatives to lower costs paid off, including greater use of telemedicine services, close monitoring of pain-management drugs, and $5 co-payments for medical department visits.
Corrections consolidates sick prisoners in need of consistent treatment for cancer, liver disease and hepatitis C at SCI Pittsburgh, providing those services in-house, Bensinger said. Older inmates are housed in a geriatric unit at SCI Laurel Highlands in Somerset. These specialized units reduce travel expenses and the cost of duplicative services at multiple prisons, she said.
The biggest impact came from a 2011 state law that allows Corrections to pay Medicare rates for inmates treated at outpatient facilities and Medicaid rates for inpatient care at hospitals, she said.
The federal Medicare and Medicaid programs typically reimburse hospitals and other medical providers at lower rates.
The department received $2 billion from the state's $28.6 billion budget in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
“Every day is a challenge to make efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Bensinger said. “With that being said, we are also tasked with the care of the inmate population, and we do that to the standards of community care. It's a fine balancing act.”
Brian Wyant, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University in Philadelphia, disagreed. Based on research he conducted at Pennsylvania prisons and from interviews with prisoners, Wyant said many inmates feel they don't get the medical care they would if they weren't incarcerated.
“Inmates on average do not feel they're getting the necessary adequate care,” he said. “(Prison administrators) want to keep costs down, so they are going to do the minimal amount required by law.”
Yet improving care for prisoners at a time of budget deficits is a tough sell, he said. “People are not going to get up in arms when it comes to cutting medical care for inmates.”
Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Former Marines who served with alleged killer said couple fought constantly
- Newsmaker: Jeffrey Leonhardt
- Poor sales sink multi-state Monopoly Millionaires’ Club lottery
- Pennsylvania Marine who killed family takes own life
- Greene County woman, 65, killed when crane truck hits SUV
- Newsmaker: Joel Kennedy
- ‘Chaos on the street’ alleged in Philly
- Most Penn State trustees boycott special meeting on legal action against football program