SJANUARY 30, 1996

RALEIGH - New procedures by the Division of Prisons' Health Services staff saved $17 million in 1995 on medical costs for inmates, despite an increasing prison population and rising medical costs.

The decision to send a prison inmate to a local hospital for medical care must now be approved by the Division of Prisons Medical Services office in Raleigh. Director of Health Services, Dr. Herbert Rosefield, said this has reduced the number of inmates transferring to a medical facility outside the prison system. In addition, Rosefield said, inmates now spend fewer days recuperating in costly local hospital beds. They receive appropriate care in less expensive prison health care wards.

"Specific medical treatment can oftentimes be handled more cost effectively at a medical facility within the prison system or a particular contractual provider," Rosefield said. "Raleigh's central office, through its utilization review section, has a better perspective on what is available for particular cases. This has helped reduce the use of expensive medical care."

The number of inmates in prison rose by six percent last year, as did the rate of medical inflation, while corrections' overall health care costs dropped one percent.

Two staff members compiled the 1994-1995 Report on DOP Health Care Costs. The report compares data from fiscal years 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1994-95. The data reflects significant decreases in costs associated with hospitalization and average length of stay for various diseases. The report shows a 25% decrease in inpatient days and a 32% decrease in average length of stay for each admission.

Decreases in health care costs were achieved despite the increase in prison population, the increasing age of prisoners and the significant upswing in infectious diseases, especially HIV and tuberculosis. The Division of Prisons has experienced a 38% increase in hospitalizations for HIV and an 81% increase for tuberculosis among offenders entering the prison system, fiscal years 1994-95 compared to 1993-94. Those numbers are expected to rise rapidly.

Health Services plans to charge inmates a small fee for appointments with the prison nurse or physician by October 1996.

Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman praised Dr. Rosefield and his staff for their work in reducing health care costs while continuing to provide proper medical care for prisoners.

"Prison medical costs represent 13% of the Division of Prisons' budget," Freeman said. "The Department of Correction is required by law to provide proper medical care and it is important that Health Services do the best possible job while containing costs."