Taxpayers Projected To Pay $1 Billion For Texas Prisoner Health Care

Curt W. Olson

The state will pay a hefty price tag for prisoner health care — nearly $1 billion in the next biennium. That comes from a recent audit that State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, requested from the state Health and Human Services Commission.

That HHSC audit — with assistance from the Texas Medicaid & Healthcare Partnership — shows that Texas lawmakers could spend $930 million in the 2012-13 biennium for inmate health care. Senate budget writers are closer to that dollar amount than House budget writers, who will begin their conference committee on the budget soon.

Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Perry have sought solutions to a program that ran $90 million in the red in January — more than $80 million from the University of Texas Medical Branch — Galveston and more than $6 million at Texas Tech University. UTMB has 79 percent of prisoner health care and Texas Tech the other 21 percent.

The solutions include maintaining the current system with some adjustments. Also, the governor reportedly has much interest in privatizing prisoner health care.

The Austin-American Statesman has reported there have been closed-door meetings on privatizing prisoner health care and some private contractors have submitted bids to provide prisoner health care. It’s uncertain how large a priority privatizing inmate health care is for the governor. Perry adviser Mike Morrissey did not respond to a request for a comment on the issue.

It may not matter how big a priority it is because the Legislature doesn’t have the appetite for it. House and Senate budget writers haven’t discussed that. Also Madden, who is chairman of the House Corrections Committee, seems open to this option in the future, but not the next biennium. “It needs to be studied. It needs to be looked at,” he said.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, did not respond to a request for comment. Madden said correctional managed health care, the system used to provide inmate health care, is under sunset so it will receive scrutiny. Madden’s requested the HHSC audit on the costs for health care for potentially more than 155,000 inmates following State Auditor’s Office reports on correctional managed health care for UTMB and Texas Tech.

Aside from the deficits, the auditor rebuked the institutions for giving out raises as the programs ran a shortfall. Madden said the State Auditor’s reports took snapshots with several samples. Madden wanted an accurate assessment of Medicaid rates for prisoner health care.

Some of the other suggestions from the HHSC audit include:

• Bringing clarity to language for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on its cost allocation process.

• Auditing UTMB’s Cost Account System called ECLIPSYS to authenticate the accounting of health care costs.