Public Option For Health Care? Look Behind Prison Bars


If there is such a thing as a existing public option for health care, medical treatment behind bars might just be it, says St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. Like everything else, it’s costly and getting more expensive. Minnesota prisons’ health services budget for fiscal 1999 was $20.5 million to meet the needs of 5,900 adult and juvenile inmates. The projected fiscal 2010 budget to cover the health needs of 9,500 inmates will more than double – $59.1 million. Inmates pay a $3 co-pay for any offender-initiated health services visit except for mental health services. “Unlike (health insurance companies), we by law have to accept everyone, and we can’t deny treatment because of a pre-existing condition,” said Nannette Larson, director of state corrections health services.

The largest age-group increase in the past decade involves state prison inmates ages 41 to 55. They numbered 1,065 in 2000. The figure is now 2,438 inmates. Financial challenges have led prison officials to establish on-site medical care to cut the cost of providing security and transporting prisoners for treatment at off-site facilities. Rosario gets many letters from inmates complaining about lack of access to proper health care. It’s hard to substantiate. Prison officials are barred by law from discussing a prisoner’s medical history. The state did away with an ombudsman’s office that, on paper was supposed to investigate such allegations.

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