Pew: Prison health care costs up

 A guard tower looms over the fence surrounding a new California Correctional Health Care Facility in Stockton, Calif. The $839 million facility will treat up to 1,720 patients in need of long-term care. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, file)

A guard tower looms over the fence surrounding a new California Correctional Health Care Facility in Stockton, Calif. The $839 million facility will treat up to 1,720 patients in need of long-term care. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, file)

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that most states are spending more and more money on health care for prisoners. Between 2001 and 2008, medical costs shot up in prisons in 42 of the 44 states studied, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, according Pew’s October report

The Pew Charitable Trusts found that most states are spending more and more money on health care for prisoners.

Between 2001 and 2008, medical costs shot up in prisons in 42 of the 44 states studied, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, according Pew’s October report. Maria Schiff, a director at the nonprofit, said that’s partly due to the growing costs of health care nationwide.

“The rise in health care costs nationally has affected all of us,” she said. “Prisons have to buy things like pharmaceuticals for their prisoners. They have to buy medical supplies. They have to pay for off-site health care services, and they have to pay salaries to individuals like physicians and nurses.”

Schiff said the growth in the country’s prison population between 2000 and 2008 is also to blame for states’ swelling budgets, as well as the large number of older inmates.

“Just like on the outside, individuals who are older tend to incur greater health care problems and expenses than younger inmates,” she said.

There’s a silver lining, though. Schiff said states that are expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, including New Jersey and Delaware, might end up saving money on prison costs.

“When individuals are sick enough to have off-site, in-patient health care at a hospital or a nursing home, then Medicaid can cover that kind of care,” she said. “When a prisoner is released from prison, he or she can be enrolled in the Medicaid program if it hadn’t happened beforehand.” 

The Obama administration is reviewing Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to revamp Medicaid on his own terms.

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