State prisons pay high health bills

Health care costs consume 17 percent of the Kansas prison budget and have ballooned 116 percent since 2000, the Associated Press reported this week.
“The primary factor is what everybody is experiencing — health care costs are just going up,” Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz told a reporter.
Werholtz said costs had risen from $2,772 for each prisoner in 2001 to an estimated $5,407 this budget year.
He pointed out that many prisoners are in poor health when they arrive. Because many used damaging drugs and lived dangerous lifestyles, they contracted HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases once considered terminal which can now be controlled with expensive drug regimens. Prisoner health care is also expected to rise as the average age of prisoners increases.
Werholtz said he was concerned about these trends mostly because they can’t be controlled. Health care, he said, must be paid for regardless of the cost, just as utility bills must be paid and food must be purchased at market rates.

THERE IS A flip side to this story. While health care costs in Kansas prisons have about doubled over the past nine years, they are still well below per capita Medicare costs. They should be, of course. The average age of prison inmates is far below 65. Even though many of them come to prison sick or weak, their youth, nutritious food and care allows most to regain strength and well-being.
Nevertheless, it is instructive that the structured health care the state provides prisoners costs about half the average annual Medicare bill per person — and is less than the cost of comprehensive health insurance for an individual in the private sector.
Mr. Werholtz deserves compliments for running a tight ship.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.