California Healthcare
(05/25/2010)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The University of California system could soon oversee the medical care program for prison inmates if state lawmakers and federal judges pass a plan proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The plan, introduced in March, would place U.C. administrators in charge of the troubled state prison medical care program, which is currently operated by federal courts. If the proposal is approved, California could save $12 billion over a decade, officials say.

The plan, which was still being refined at press time, would expand the state’s telemedicine program and electronic recordkeeping to allow providers access to medical information from anywhere. Telemedicine allows diagnostics and treatment to be completed remotely. 

The governor’s plan could also require the purchase and construction of a central hospital near several prison infirmaries to house and/or treat the chronically sick, reducing the need for the state’s current practice of paying correctional officers overtime to transport and supervise inmates who are evaluated at community hospitals around the state.

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The governor’s proposal calls for two agencies to be created. The first would be developed by state lawmakers and tasked with monitoring health spending and the quality of care. It would comprise corrections administrators, federal court representatives and governor-appointed employees. The second agency would be established by the U.C. system and would include state prison physicians, dentists and psychiatrists who would manage drug and equipment purchasing.

The plan, which was recommended by Texas firm NuPhysicia, would end the oversight of California prison medical care by federal courts. The program would also mean a sharp reduction in the number of employees providing care to inmates around the state.

By pairing state prisons with the U.C. academic medical system, lawmakers hope to achieve faster, broader changes like those that have taken place in Georgia, Texas and New Jersey, the latter two of which had federal court oversight of inmate care before reforming their systems.

California pays more than $40 per day per inmate for care, while Texas now pays $9.67 per day, New Jersey $15.84 and Georgia $10.25, according to reports from NuPhysicia. Additionally, California has almost twice as many medical staff serving inmates as Texas, New Jersey and Georgia.

Savings from the plan are estimated to be at least $300 million in 2010 and would reach an estimated $1.2 billion a year by 2014, according to NuPhysicia.

The U.C. system has not agreed to the plan, says John Stobo, U.C. senior vice president for health sciences and services.

If approved by lawmakers and federal judges, the project would start at 11 Northern California prisons before being expanded to all 33 statewide. For the proposal to pass, the state would need cooperation from unions representing state prison employees.

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