- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - While the vast majority of states have seen prison health care costs climb sharply in recent years, Oklahoma is one of the few bucking that trend, according to a national study released Tuesday.

The report on state spending on prison health care released by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows Oklahoma is among ten states where per-inmate spending declined from 2007 to 2011. Oklahoma had the lowest per-inmate cost in the country in 2011 at $2,558, a decline of 17 percent from $3,071 per inmate in 2007 spending.

California had the highest per-inmate health care cost in 2011 at $14,495 per inmate, a 42 percent increase from 2007.

Even though, like many states, Oklahoma’s prison population is getting older, state prison officials say they have implemented several recommendations to drive down health care costs, like increased use of telemedicine and medical paroles.

“We’ve always been proactive with cost savings while maintaining the constitutionally required medical care,” said Eric Franklin, a longtime Oklahoma prison warden who is now a health services manager for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “The report mentioned four areas of cost savings that we have been doing for quite some time as a part of our cost containment strategy.”

Besides aggressively pursuing medical paroles for inmates with terminal illnesses or advanced-stage diseases, and using telemedicine, which allows doctors to use video and telecommunications technology to treat inmates, Franklin said the state also is saving money through Medicaid reimbursement and the outsourcing of certain medical services.

All four of those initiatives were cited as cost-containment strategies that states are using to drive down prison health care costs, said Maria Schiff, director of Pew’s state health care spending project.

The study shows the biggest spending drivers for inmate health care costs are the distance of prisons from hospitals, the prevalence of disease and mental illness among prisoners, and the aging inmate population.

Of Oklahoma’s $471 million corrections budget this year, about $38 million is spent on inmate health care, Franklin said.

Franklin said another cost-saver for Oklahoma’s prison system is a contract for a secure, 20-bed medical facility with the municipal hospital in Lindsay, located near two state prisons - the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center and the Joseph Harp Correctional Center.

“We just pay them their costs and a small administrative fee,” Franklin said. “That saved us a lot of money right there It’s kind of a partnership with the town.”

___

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy