County seeks relief on inmate health care

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By By Lisa Tindell – news reporter
Escambia County is hoping Congress will take steps to help cut the costs of healthcare associated with inmates who end up at the Escambia County Detention Center.
Currently, individuals who are incarcerated - even if they aren't convicted - lose all benefits of Medicare and Medicaid.
The Escambia County Commission voted unanimously Monday to pass a resolution asking the state's Congressional delegation to consider introducing legislation that would require Medicare and Medicaid agencies to extend coverage to inmates until they are convicted.
The action is part of an initiative by the National Association of Counties, said Tony Sanks, Escambia County administrator. The local resolution will be sent to U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner and Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.
Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith said his inmates are costing the county taxpayers money each month as result of those benefits being stopped upon their arrest.
Smith said medical costs incurred by inmates should be taken care of through insurance, Medicare or Medicaid if they are eligible for coverage at the time of their arrest. He said the cost of care should be placed on responsible parties and not solely on Escambia County.
Sanks said a large portion of inmates housed in Escambia County may be qualified to receive Medicare and Medicaid benefits - and a loss of those benefits puts the county coffers in a bind.
The county is still paying off medical expenses for inmates from as far back as the late 1990s, Sanks said. The amount of healthcare costs varies from month to month depending on the number of qualified recipients incarcerated at a given time.
Basic healthcare costs now are absorbed by Escambia County, he said.
But when additional charges are incurred, they are the responsibility of the county, Sanks said.
Sanks said although final action on the proposal could take some time, a response from political figures could be swift.

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