Texas prisons try to curb healthcare spending

January 18, 2015
From 2001 to 2008, the cost of providing healthcare per inmate increased nationally by an average of 28%, according to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center that examined cost data from 44 states. During that period, Texas reduced the cost of healthcare per inmate by 12%. From 2007 to 2011, Texas prisons have seen a 24% increase in healthcare spending per inmate, according to a more recent study by the Pew Research Center. More than $581 million was spent on healthcare for Texas' 152,841 prisoners in 2011. Texas is trying to lower costs by subcontracting prison healthcare to the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas Tech University. The partnership reduces medication costs through a federal program and uses cost-saving technology such as telemedicine. Telemedicine saved the Texas Department of Criminal Justice $780 million from 1994 to 2008. Critics argue that telemedicine isn't the way to save money in a system plagued with long-standing concerns of poor medical care, but the Pew report found that, by some measures, the health of inmates has improved since telemedicine was rolled out in Texas in 1994. Dr. Owen Murray, VP of offender health services at the University of Texas Medical Branch said telemedicine, along with EMRs, preferred drug lists and adherence to disease-management guidelines, have curbed spending while improving access to care. The University of Texas Medical Branch uses a federal program that allows it to buy medications at a discounted price. The university is eligible for the special pricing program because its hospitals care for a large proportion of underserved communities. That cost-saving benefit is passed onto the Texas Department of Criminal Justice when University of Texas Medical Branch doctors write prescriptions for inmates. Texas will save more than $60 million in medication costs this year.