Tuesday, June 5, 2007

DeSoto looks into inmate medical care

DeSoto County taxpayers spend nearly $1.2 million a year on prisoner medical care -- more than twice the cost of jail food.
The Board of Supervisors paid $45,347.68 Monday for about two weeks of prisoner health care bills, many of which were at inflated prices far above standard insurance rates.

County officials reviewed the numbers and voted to join their counterparts nationally in a fight against policies that saddle counties and cities with the bulk of prisoner medical expenses.
Local governments' prime beef is a policy that drops people charged with crimes from Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

Supervisors appointed director of administrative services Vanessa Lynchard to represent them on a regional committee that's being formed to lobby for changes in state and federal laws.

Lynchard presented five prisoner medical bills in which the county was charged anywhere from $65.45 to $4,797.98 higher than it might have been under different procedures.

Medicare and Medicaid reimburse fixed amounts for standard procedures, rarely paying the amounts billed by a health care provider, and private insurance companies do the same.

Not so for county government's handling of prisoner medical care. The county pays every penny billed by a provider. In the most flagrant example, the county was billed $6,166 for various tests and services on a prisoner. Medicaid would have paid $1,368.02.

"Some providers bill the maximum amount they can bill because they know the county will pay it," Lynchard said.

Lynchard said the county's budget for prisoner medical care is $1,176,000 this year, compared to a jail food budget of $460,000.

Under state law, the state caps reimbursement of cities and counties for prisoner medical care at the Medicaid rate -- even though the jail operators aren't being charged the Medicaid rate.

Lynchard said the county's goal is to bring the inequities to the attention of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, so the group can lobby for a change in state law.

The National Association of Counties is lobbying for changes in federal law. NACO officials say the suspension of Medicare and Medicaid benefits for prisoners is costing county governments nationally $400 million to $500 million a year.

Board president Bill Russell said, "These are people who had Medicare or Medicaid; because they were charged, not convicted, it was taken away from them, and that's outrageous."


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