Inmates’ health bills in spotlight

The Miami Herald, September 20, 2010

As Miami-Dade County commissioners consider the Jackson Health System budget this week, two looming questions are likely to be why taxpayers are footing the bill for inmate healthcare and why Jackson isn't even trying to charge prisoners for their own care, as required by state law.

The cost of the care is also at issue. Jackson's monthly financial reports say correctional healthcare costs Miami-Dade taxpayers $24 million a year. Trying to save money, Jackson executives want an outside contractor to perform these jail services. In August, they received bids on the contract ranging from $57 million to $93 million a year -- at least twice as much as Jackson says the services now cost.

Yet Jackson has insisted that the outsourcing will save taxpayers $8 million next year, according to its proposed budget.

On top of such head-scratching accounting, Miami-Dade's budget director wants to know why Jackson isn't billing the inmates, as state law requires.

Inmate healthcare has been a hot topic because most public hospitals in the country don't have to pick up the costs -- local governments or other entities do. Jackson executives have frequently complained that prisoner care is an ``unfunded mandate'' that the county commission forced on them starting in 1992.

As part of their budget presentation, they have been trying to impress on commissioners that their ``cost of mission'' -- charity care and things like inmate care -- is far higher than Jackson's tax support.

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