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Inmate health care costs can come down ‘ LaHue

First in a two-part series
Taxpayers are paying for medical care, prescription and non-prescription drugs, and vision and dental care for inmates in the Harrison County Jail, to the tune of $262,000 in 2004.
The year before, it was nearly $300,000, so costs have been coming down somewhat, but the goal is to get it much lower still.
Capt. Bruce LaHue, the Harrison County Jail commander, said there are many times when generic prescriptions could be given instead of brand names, when non-prescription items could be purchased in bulk at considerable savings, and when over-the-counter ‘reader’ type glasses could be purchased at about $6 each instead of $200 from an eye doctor plus $50 for the exam.
LaHue said inmates who don’t have eyeglasses when they are arrested must be provided with them if they cannot read the formal charges against them. In such cases, LaHue has begun having inmates try on the different strengths of reader glasses until they can see the print.
Dental expenses usually involve tooth extractions, which LaHue said inmates often want to have done so they can get pain killers.
LaHue said, ‘There’s no doubt we can reduce health care costs.’
When inmates who need medical treatment are taken into custody, such as ‘meth heads,’ the jail has no choice, said LaHue, an emergency medical technician from 1981 to 2001 who also served as EMS director and materials manager at Harrison County Hospital.
‘But if we’re spending $350,000 a year, we need to know why we’re doing it,’ he said.
The rules governing medical care are spelled out in administrative law, and, basically, the jail doctor’s instructions must be followed, LaHue said.
Negotiating a contract with the doctor spelling out the protocol to be followed could result in much lower costs, said LaHue. Contract negotiations are the responsibility of the county commissioners.
Most everyone thought there was a contract in place, but LaHue said none has been located.
Drs. Michael Bonacum and J. Brent Murphy make up Corydon Medical Associates P.C., which now provides medical care for the inmates. LaHue said another doctor has also expressed interest in contracting to provide services.
LaHue will discuss that and other proposed changes in more detail with the sheriff and commissioners when he returns from a medical leave. He is expected back next week.
For this year, the Harrison County Council budgeted $250,000 from the rainy day fund for medical expenses and $15,000 for dental. As of yesterday, five months and a week into the year, the auditor’s records reflect $137,000 remaining in the account for medical bills and $2,700 for dental.
Next week: Prescription drugs and hospital bills.