States Spent $7.7 Billion on Prisoners’ Heath Care in 2011

GOV065A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts reports that 41 states experienced growth in their correctional health care spending from fiscal 2007-2011, with a median increase of 13%. Further:

…state spending on prisoner health care increased from fiscal 2007 to 2011, but began trending downward from its peak in 2009. Nationwide, prison health care spending totaled $7.7 billion in fiscal 2011, down from a peak of $8.2 billion in fiscal 2009. In a majority of states, correctional health care spending and per-inmate health care spending peaked before fiscal 2011. But a steadily aging prison population is a primary challenge that threatens to drive costs back up. The share of older inmates rose in all but two of the 42 states that submitted prisoner age data. States where older inmates represented a relatively large share of the total prisoner population tended to incur higher per-inmate health care spending.

This report is timely because of the current debate over Solvaldi, the new drug for hepatitis C which costs about $1,000 a pill and up to $140,000 for a course of treatment. The debate over the price of this one drug has reached quite a high pitch. At a conference earlier today, I learned from Michael Kleinrock of the IMS Institute that about 70 percent of hepatitis C patients are either prisoners or ex-convicts. So, although commercial health plans appear to be the ones leading the challenge to the price of Sovaldi today, it is prison health-systems that will bear much of the cost.

Comments (9)

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  1. Matthew says:

    “I learned from Michael Kleinrock of the IMS Institute that about 70 percent of hepatitis C patients are either prisoners or ex-convicts.”

    Interesting how those not in prison with hepatitis C will struggle and likely not even receive this medication to treat their illness, yet prisoners will receive this medication? Not to say prisoners don’t have a right to health, but think about this for a minute.

    • Buddy says:

      I think the answer to this is that if you have hepatitis C and you want the most advanced treatment, go to prison.

  2. James M. says:

    If prison systems deemed the cost too high, and commercial health plans deem the cost too high, maybe the price would fall to become a bit more affordable.

  3. Devon Herrick says:

    Prisoners tend to be in much worse health than the general population. They begin to experience chronic conditions a decade before everyone else. That’s one reason why the cost of prison health care is so high.

  4. Thomas says:

    Costs will likely increase again now that the boomers and gen-x’rs are getting older, needing increased medical care. Prisons aren’t a haven for clean living, so the need for medical care increases.

  5. Freedom Lover says:

    I guess it’s good that health spending has fallen since 2009, but it looks like it’s going to pick right back up again soon. This case actually reminds me of the current border crisis with the kids…they stand to get a lot of benefits (such as immediate healthcare) that many people here don’t. The Sovaldi situation sounds eerily similar.

  6. Phill S says:

    This article mentions total costs, and I’m interested to see how they will change as the population of prisons undergoes an aging trend. Of course, such costs may also be due largely to the number of prisoners, and whether that number is rising or falling.

  7. Mr. Freedom says:

    How come our inmates don’t get the privilege of being enrolled in Obamacare like the rest of us? Would its death panels be considered cruel and unusual?

  8. Bob Hertz says:

    I believe there are about 2.5 million persons in prisons in the USA.

    $8 billion in health care spending would be about $3300 a person, which is about average for the nation as a whole. No scandal so far in my view.

    As for the hepatitis drug:

    – note that 70 per cent of the sufferers are cons or ex-cons. The term ex-cons covers millions of persons, many of whom are repentatnt and have paid their debts.

    However — I understand that it is disconcerting to see large amounts of money spent on people who have done evil things and are going nowhere.

    It reminds me of what I felt when I used to visit a dialysis center to accompany a friend of mine. A lot of the dialysis patients were poor black persons who had never received an education or a good job or decent housing their whole lives. Now at the end of their lives, we were spending many thousands of public dollars to keep them alive. It does seem futile, and I do not have an answer.