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Walaska bill calls for savings in correctional health care costs

Rhode Island, like other states, faces spending on corrections and health care that causes extra stress on already difficult state budgets.

One option to address rising correctional costs, says Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick), is to address the cost of correctional health care.

“Better ways to treat inmates’ physical and mental ailments, and substance abuse, improves the well-being of prisoners, and at the same time can result in a cost savings in the correctional budget. I believe we can cut costs through better health care strategies without negatively affecting the quality of care prisoners receive.”

Walaska has introduced legislation, 2014-S 2022, “the Correctional Healthcare Act,” that proposes several strategies – some of them already being applied in other states – to deliver health care to inmates, protect public safety and control costs.

The legislation proposes reducing costs by requiring hospitals and other medical service providers to bill Medicaid for eligible inmate inpatient hospital and professional services. It calls for implementing improper payment detection, prevention and recovery solutions; a cap on all contract and non-contract correctional health care reimbursement rates at no more than 110 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate, and urges embracing technologies (such as video conferencing and digitally transmitted diagnostic data) to better manage health care expenses.

Walaska said it is difficult to determine what kind of savings could be achieved with implementation of the proposals in his bill, but that other states that have tried the various cost-saving approaches have reported positive results.

“It is my intent that the savings achieved through this chapter will more than cover the cost of its implementation. And if we can achieve savings well beyond that, we have accomplished the greater goal of significantly cutting correctional costs, which are a significant part of our state’s budget,” he said.

According to a 2013 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the significant growth in correctional health care costs is due, in part, to the rise in prison populations. But other factors, the report said, also accounted for pushing costs up, including aging inmate populations, prevalence of infectious and chronic diseases, mental illness and substance abuse among inmates, and challenges inherent in delivering health care in prison, such as distance from hospitals and other providers.

“Prisoners have a constitutional right to adequate health care,” said Senator Walaska, “but taxpayers have a right to a state budget that implements ways to cut costs. I believe this proposal will more than adequately address both of those concerns.”

The Walaska bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 25, Johnston).


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