Prison medical costs rising fast, Nevada Legislature told

Corrections officials told lawmakers on Friday medical costs are rising fast within the system.

Deputy Director John Borrowman said prices have risen unexpectedly this fiscal year, leaving the department asking the governor for a supplemental appropriation projected at $5 million — a number he said could go higher.

“The big question is if we don’t have enough money in ’17, do we have enough money in ’18 and ’19,” he told the subcommittee of Senate and Assembly members studying the department budget.

He said costs are being driven by a combination of factors the department isn’t in control of. The inmate population is aging, causing them to require more trips to the hospital and longer stays. He said there are new drugs available that do much better at controlling chronic diseases but those drugs cost more.

Borrowman said an example is the new drugs to treat hepatitis C. He said many of the nearly 700 inmates with that disease couldn’t tolerate the old treatment but now more of them can. Before those new drugs were available, he said just 19 inmates were on the hepatitis C treatments but that number is expanding.

Likewise, he said the department’s 136 HIV/AIDS patients are receiving more effective new drugs but, again, they cost more.

He added the department has a growing number of patients who need dialysis.

Asked whether Medicaid was covering any of those patients, Borrowman said Medicaid covers none of the initial costs when an inmate is hospitalized. He said Medicaid kicks in after the inmate has been hospitalized for 24 hours but, before that, the cost of treatment is 100 percent borne by the state.

After that, he said the hospital bills Medicaid for the cost of treatment.

In response to a question from Assemblyman Mike Sprinkle, D-Sparks, Borrowman said Renown Health in Reno has been an “amazing partner” in treating inmates but transporting them to Reno is expensive. Carson Tahoe Health refuses to accept inmate admissions at Medicaid rates.

Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Wellington, said given the transport and security costs, the department should at least look at whether it would be cost effective to make up the difference in price to C-TH as opposed to transport the patients to Reno.


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