State to Take a Closer Look at Prison Health Care

Brattleboro Reformer

By Mike Faher

In Vermont, health care for prisoners is a $20.5 million business.

Now, a legislatively commissioned study will determine whether the state can bring that number down at least a little.

The Joint Fiscal Office is accepting bids for a study that will examine the way Vermont handles its prison health care services and compare that to at least eight other states “to assess whether current costs are excessive.”

The Department of Corrections didn’t initiate the study but welcomes a closer look at prison expenses, said Matt D’Agostino, the department’s financial director.

“We do have a sizable budget as it relates to the overall state budget,” D’Agostino said. “We want to do our best job to control the costs where we can.”

The state study comes after the Pew Charitable Trusts issued a comprehensive, state-by-state look at prison health care costs last year. Among the 49 states that participated in the study, Vermont came in with the second-highest per-inmate health care cost in fiscal year 2015 – $13,747.

Only California was higher, spending $19,796 per inmate. The national median cost was $5,720.

There’s a lot of nuance in those numbers, however. Because of variations in how states deliver care, the Pew study noted that “higher spending is not necessarily an indication of either waste or good quality care” and, “likewise, lower spending is not necessarily a sign of efficiency or poor quality.”

D’Agostino said the Pew study wasn’t “an apples-to-apples comparison between the states.” For example, he said Vermont is one of the few states that provides medication-assisted treatment for inmate addiction.

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