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Saving money on inmates' care could cost everyone more

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TWC News: Saving money on inmates' care could cost everyone more
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RALEIGH -- State auditors have found a way North Carolina can save an average of $11.5 million a year in inmate health care costs. An audit released this week says that's how much the state could save if the Department of Corrections billed Medicaid for eligible inmates' medical care instead of paying full price.

“Part of our job as a state agency is to get the taxpayers the most bang for their buck and look for ways we can find savings in every way possible,” said Pamela Walker, Director of External Affairs for the NC DOC.

Inmates are typically not eligible for Medicaid, but the federal program says once inmates are checked into a medical facility not run by the state, they lose their inmate status and become inpatients, therefore eligible for Medicaid.

Walker says the DOC has been working with the Department of Health and Human Services since last year to put systems in place to determine which inmates are eligible for Medicaid and to change the billing system. The two agencies are working together to start those changes next month.

While the promise of savings sounds good, the North Carolina Hospital Association says its not that simple and it could end up costing everyone more money in the long run.

Don Dalton, Vice President of the NC Hospital Association, says Medicaid only pays 74 cents on the dollar for medical care.

He also noted inmates are even more expensive to treat than normal patients, because of required security measures.

“If hospitals are forced to take great losses for the treatment of prisoners, then that care has to be paid for by others,” he said. “That cost has to be shifted to the business community through higher premiums on their insurance. It's got to be shifted to most other payers because our charges have to go up somewhere to offset that.”

In addition, earlier this year state lawmakers required the DOC to contract with private medical facilities for discounted rates, which cannot be more than 70 percent of the normal billing rate.

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