By KATHLEEN LOFTUS
Capital News Service
LANSING – The bill for for prescription drugs for jail inmates has increased in the past year.
Counties are paying more for prescriptions despite efforts to reduce costs, experts say.
Terrence Jungel, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, said jails negotiate with health care providers to lower costs when buying in bulk.
He said health care costs are hard to quantify because jails can get reimbursed and contracting with outside medical facilities can save millions of county dollars.
Mark Sabin, Montcalm County jail administrator, said about 30 of 205 inmates take medication for everything from diabetes to mental illness to multiple sclerosis.
To save costs, 85 percent of medications are generic.
Sabin said starting April 4, Montcalm will contract with Independent Health Services, a corrections medication management company in Rainsville, Ala., to cut Montcalm’s pharmaceutical budget by 35 to 50 percent.
Ben Bodkin, legislative director of the Michigan Association of Counties, said many state felons are held in county jails if their sentence is 24 months or less. Counties pay for their medical bills including prescription drugs.
Bodkin said as soon as someone is incarcerated in a county jail, Medicare and Medicaid benefits stop and health care bills are sent to the county.
When an inmate is released, there’s a period when they are still not back on Medicare or Medicaid, so counties may pay for prescriptions for 30, 60 or even 90 days, Bodkin said.
Bodkin said he would like coverage to pause instead of completely stop. That way when an inmate is released, the coverage resumes.
Eric Lambert, the Wayne State University criminal justice department chair, said the government is responsible for prisoners’ reasonable medical care, including prescription drugs that can cost up to hundreds of dollars per dose.
And counties end up paying for inmates’ medical costs.
Lambert said, “The expenses for health care keep increasing, which should come as no shock for why jails and prisons have to spend more of their budget on health care.”
Lambert said some jails have released well-behaved, nonviolent inmates to community supervision – probation or out-of-jail housing—so medical care can be paid for by Medicaid or Medicare and not counties.
“For example, an 83 year-old being charged with a crime had a heart attack while in jail and needed surgery. The jail paid for his surgery, but after surgery they put him under house arrest so the sheriff’s department would not pick up further costs,” Lambert said.
Costs are rising for prescription drugs faster than the inflation rate for their jail services, Lambert said.
On the flip side, there are many ways jails are cost-efficient, he said.
To avoid expensive emergency care, routine checkups are done for prevention.
For example if someone’s heart isn’t beating properly, he or she is put on medicine to prevent a heart attack, Lambert said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.