|TDCJ Health Care Now Up To Standard – Critics Disagree
Inmate health care now up to standard July 28, 2004
By ERIC BERGER
Nearly every Texas inmate who gets sick now receives health care that meets national standards, prison health officials will report today.
Health care in Texas prisons has improved, but costs remain low compared with California’s similarly sized system:
Texas inmate population : 147,000
� Annual prison medical costs: $315 million
� California inmate population: 160,000
Source: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
“We think this is a success story,” said Dr. Ben Raimer, the report’s lead author and vice president of community outreach for UTMB.
The report was co-written by UTMB President Dr. John Stobo.
An accompanying editorial in the journal, written by Dr. Newton Kendig, medical director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, hails the Texas system’s collaboration with academic medicine as a model for other states.
But prisoner-rights activists called the results a sham, saying the data have not been verified by physicians outside the prison health care network. The report is based on medical records kept by prison system health care workers.
“It’s a complete and total fraud,” said activist Ray Hill, host of The Prison Show on KPFT-FM (90.1) radio.
Hill said that of the 200 letters he receives each week from Texas inmates, one-third concern problems with health care.
Turning to academia
A successful federal lawsuit filed by inmate David Ruiz in 1974 eventually forced the state to improve conditions, including health care, for inmates.
To meet part of the ruling by U.S. District Judge William Justice, the Texas Legislature turned over the state’s $300 million-a-year prison health care business to the universities. UTMB serves about 78 percent of the state’s 147,000 prisoners, with Tech seeing the remainder.
The report suggests that the plan has succeeded. As medical costs have skyrocketed in the private sector, the academic institutions held prisoner costs down. In 1993, the average daily medical cost per prisoner, according to state figures, was $5.99. Last year it was $6.23, just 24 cents more.
According to some measures, U.S. general health care costs doubled during the same time period.
Quality care for low cost
Even as costs remained essentially flat, the quality of care has risen, the report said.
A decade ago, just 34 percent of patients with asthma received a level of care recommended by national medical associations � the same standards that apply in any local doctor’s office. Now, based upon medical records of inmates, 97 percent of asthma patients receive proper diagnosis, medication and follow-up care.
The researchers found similar improvements in complying with national standards of care with other diseases such as type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.