The state Legislature’s finance committee approved a Department of Corrections request on Monday to transfer money earmarked for drunk driver treatment and monitoring to cover rising inmate healthcare costs.
The DOC is projecting a roughly $5.4 million shortfall because of hospital costs not covered by Medicaid, as well as rising prescription drug and nursing costs. Hospital costs are expected to grow by $3 million from last year’s fiscal cycle. In addition, drug costs for medications that treat Hepatitis C and HIV are expected to increase by about $1.5 million while contracting for nurses is expected to go up by just under $3 million.
“The Department has found on-going difficulty recruiting and maintaining permanent employees in health care positions due to a variety of factors including but not limited to a statewide shortage of trained personnel; market pressures which raise salaries in rural areas; and driving distance to prisons from urban areas,” wrote DOC Secretary Jon E. Litscher in the budget request.
The Joint Finance Committee agreed to transfer an estimated $3 million surplus from a total of $6.5 million set aside to provide services for repeat drunk driving offenders. But state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the funding should be used for alcohol and drug abuse services.
“I do want to address the health issues and the increased costs we’re having in urgent care health issues,” said Taylor. “But, we should look at what can we do better for preventive services.”
Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said enough treatment is being provided through corrections, but he added repeat offenders should be receiving those services outside the system.
“That’s why we’ve increased the amount of investment we have in our treatment and diversion programs six times,” he said. “Let’s nip it in the bud before it becomes a situation where people are ending up in prison.”
Corrections officials have noted an increase in what’s known as “observation status” where inmates receive outpatient services to determine whether they should be admitted. Such care is not covered under Medicaid. Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said corrections officials should work with the Department of Health Services and hospitals to examine the increasing costs.
“To avoid what looks like might be an increasing use of a loophole of using observation status rather than having an inmate who needs to come out of the correction facility and go into the hospital … We should work with all the parties involved to try to correct that because that’s really the cost driver here,” Knudson said.
Lawmakers also discussed and shot down a motion to direct the DOC to use $500,000 in 2015-2016 for a one-time payment to Milwaukee County. The county has incurred juvenile corrections cost related to transferring juveniles from Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.