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ABC 6 Investigates The Money Trail: Inmate Medical Costs

Updated: 05/16/2014 8:43 AM
Created: 04/30/2014 7:20 AM KAALtv.com

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Billions of dollars are spent on healthcare each year in America and we know those costs are going up.

You've probably noticed that just from looking at your doctor bills over the last few years.

But something you may not know is you're also paying the medical costs for local inmates. That money comes from your property taxes.

It turns out the crime rate has a lot to do with how much we're paying.

"In the last four months its been a significant increase. We're getting more serious offenders, serious assaults. Crimes of a nature that they can't be anywhere else but jail," said Terese Amazi, Mower County Sheriff.

She says with current staff levels the Mower County jail can hold 88 inmates. That number has almost been reached.

She doesn't know why there's more serious crimes, but it's affecting medical costs. Mower County contracted out to an outside Illinois company is 2010 when its new jail opened. In the last five years, costs have gone up.

2009: $140,544
2010: $198,526
2011: $171,971
2012: $194,960
2013: $169,450

However, in Olmsted County, costs are going down.

2009: $959,828
2010: $1,110,892
2011: $1,042,477
2012: $742,478
2013: $650,000

One reason for the drop is there's less people in the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center. Five years ago the average daily population was 180 detainees. Last year's number, 130.

The county is also saving money because in 2012 it changed who is treating inmates. Instead of using Olmsted County Public Health, the detention center contracted an outside company from Colorado.

"We can do X-rays in our facilities now," said David Mueller, Olmsted County Sheriff.

"Hospital visits are down and that's a direct result that we have nurses on staff," said Stacy Sinner, director of detention services for Olmsted County.

We've got costs going down in Olmsted County and going up in Mower County, but just one inmate can throw an entire budget off.

"And they do," said Sheriff Amazi.

Inmates with HIV is not uncommon. Those medications are thousands of dollars.

"We have lots of cancers and kidney dialysis," said Sinner.

"We've also had one individual with MS and those meds were astronomical," said Amazi.

Olmsted County says its doing more education with its inmates about their health to try and lower costs even more.

Mower County is looking at a possible partnership with Mayo Clinic to help slow rising costs.

We also got numbers from Freeborn County and found its medical costs are also going up overall. They contract with the same company as Olmsted County. Freeborn County Sheriff Bob Kindler says "The increases in costs that we have seen approximately follow the increases in costs for healthcare services nationally."

2009: $190,483
2010: $209,597
2011: $235,379
2012: $233,778
2013: $239,486