Nevada inmate medical costs fall

CARSON CITY — Inmate medical costs in Nevada prison have fallen appreciably over the past 12 years because of medical reform measures established at prisons, according to information released Thursday by Brian Connett, the department’s deputy director and public information officer.

The Department of Corrections spent an average of $3,558 on medical costs per inmate in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the information showed. Medical care spending has ranged between $3,348 and $3,796 per inmate per year over the past five years.

The release of this information comes after an Internet news conference Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trust about the rising cost of prison medical spending across the nation.

A Pew study, “Managing Prison Health Care Spending,” found per inmate medical spending in Nevada had dropped 16 percent — from $4,266 per inmate in 2001 to $3,584 per inmate in 2008. In the typical state, per inmate medical spending grew by 32 percent over those seven years.

The statistics released by the Department of Corrections show inmate spending in Nevada remains consistent with what Pew found for 2008.

In California, per inmate spending increased from $6,426 in 2001 to $11,793 in 2008. Nevada’s medical spending in 2008 was seventh-lowest among the states.

Maria Schiff, the researcher who did the study, said the 2008 figures were the most recent available from the U.S. Bureau of Prison Statistics. The Review-Journal asked whether her study was irrelevant because the most recent statistics are almost 5 years old, but she didn’t answer the question.

But Connett said the Pew findings are relevant.

“It shows that Nevada is one of the low-cost providers of inmate health care, while facing the same problems that all other states are facing, namely aging inmate populations with higher medical costs,” he said. “Nevada continues to seek new ways to provide quality health care for inmates’ serious medical conditions.”

The department cited efforts to reduce pharmacy prices, such as psychotropic medications becoming generic and, therefore, less expensive, and entering into agreements with Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno to care for HIV patients. The hospital can provide HIV treatment drugs at lower costs.

The department is using Medicaid funds to pay for more inmates’ health care costs. Medicaid cannot be used if the inmate is treated in prison but can be used if he or she is admitted to an outside medical facility for more than 24 hours. Also, prisons are using more preferred provider organizations to gain access to lower contract rates for health care.

During her news conference, Schiff had proposed state prisons use some of these plans to reduce inmate costs, which she said were rising because of an older inmate population. She also said prisons should look to more privatization of prison medical care.

But Nevada did try privatization at the Nevada Women’s Correctional Center in North Las Vegas. Corrections Corp. of America built the prison in 1997 and turned it over the state in 2004 when it was unable to earn profits because of high medical costs.

Pew, based in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., calls itself an “independent, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization dedicated to serving the public.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.

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