KHI News Service

Corrections department plan would help county jails gain access to Medicaid

Move designed to trim health care costs for local lock-ups

By Dave Ranney | January 29, 2014

The Kansas Department of Corrections is working with local law enforcement officials on a plan that would help county jail keepers bill Medicaid for a portion of their inmates' health care costs.

The move could save Kansas jails between $1.2 million and $2.4 million a year, said Viola Riggin, director of health care services at the Kansas Department of Corrections.

The state already has a system for billing Medicaid to cover the relatively few prisoners in state lock-ups who are eligible for the coverage. The plan would allow the counties to tap the state's expertise in that area.

“KDoC has access to Medicaid for a limited number of patients; those who are over 64 or under 19, those who are severely disabled, and for women, those who are pregnant,” Riggin said.

Medicaid reimbursements for state prisoners cover about $750,000 of the department’s health care costs each year, she said.

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Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning

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Most of the department’s health care costs are covered by the state's $49.3 million contract with Correct Care Solutions, Inc., a Tennessee-based company that provides prison health services.

KDoC is responsible for providing health care to approximately 9,500 inmates in 14 correctional facilities across the state.

County jails, Riggin said, also could be billing Medicaid for services to eligible inmates. But the jails often lack staff and expertise to handling the program’s complicated billing procedures.

KDoC, Riggin said, is looking for ways to expand its current Medicaid contract to include the county jails.

The arrangement, she said, would be similar to an existing department’s program that allows local jails to buy prescription drugs for inmates through KDoC, which purchases at discount in large quantities.

Riggin said the expanded Medicaid plan should be up and running by July 1. It does not require legislative approval, officials said, though agency managers have included several legislators in their discussions.

The planning, she said, has involved the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which is the state's lead Medicaid agency, the Kansas Association of Counties and the Kansas Sheriff’s Association.

“This would help all of the jails in Kansas reduce some of the costs that they incur in treating the inmates who are in their custody,” said Johnson County Sheriff Frank Denning, head of the sheriff association’s legislative committee.

Johnson County is the state's most populous and Denning said his department is large enough to bill Medicaid on its own.

“But what happens now,” he said, “is that most sheriffs can’t afford to take on the responsibility of paying for these individuals’ medical bills. So what they’ll do when they go out to pick somebody up, they’ll take them to the (hospital) emergency room first, wait until they’re treated, and then make an arrest. That’s just not a good way of doing things.”

That arrangement, he said, has the effect of shifting much of the jails’ would-be medical costs for the inmates onto the hospitals.

Denning is the brother of State Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican.

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