Morrow County Commissioners continue to follow concerns from Sheriff’s Office Administrator, Lori Epling. Epling first brought billing dollar amounts in July that showed medical costs for prisoners had almost doubled in the first half of 2016.
The total spent on medical and pharmacy for prisoners in 2015 was $66,000. $61,000 has already been spent in the first half of 2016. That amount includes costs for physicians, hospital and pharmacy billing. Epling’s concern is for the total budget for the Sheriff’s office if this trend of increase in medical expense continues.
Hinton said he realized they would need to look into the costs when Epling showed him the big increases. They took the increase in numbers to the commissioners when they saw this was a big factor in staying within the budget.
Services at the prison are contracted through Premier Physician Group and Diamond Pharmacy. Those services were contracted together several years ago and are medical providers often used by correctional facilities. The Premier Physicians costs have gone up twice this year. There are also some bills from the Ohio State University and Riverside Hospitals for major injuries. Epling commented that physicians seem to be sending patients to the hospital more frequently.
Epling said there will be some reimbursement from other counties that have prisoners here and payment for ICE Prisoners (Prisoners from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) However reimbursement funds may not come in until sometime next year.
“We pay our bills on time,” said Epling and if it (the balance) continues short, we have to be the bank for some counties. We may not be reimbursed until next February.”
Commissioners asked Epling to analyze billing and where patients are going for treatment and how medications are being prescribed. She was also asked to take a look at any changes in the number of prisoners and what prescriptions are given.
When Epling returned to report to the commissioners last week there were a few surprises. The number of Morrow County prisoners has not seen an increase. The number of ICE prisoners has increased, but their medical costs are payed directly by federal payments. The main rise in cost appears to come directly from pharmacy bills. There also was an “upgrading” of prescriptions that was causing an increase in pharmacy bills.
Commissioners decided with Epling and Sheriff John Hinton that they would make a joint effort to research the costs and find a solution. Epling would meet with prison nurses, Commissioner, Tom Whiston and the Premiere Physicians Group to find out why costs are going up so much. It was also recommended that Epling may need to compare prices with other possible providers of medical and pharmacy services.
Whiston met with Epling and Premiere Physicians’ representative last week. He said there needs to be a better understanding of how the system at the prison works in treating and providing medical services. The number of prisoners is not a factor in cost determination. Whiston said there will be an on-going examination of the issues of medical costs at the prison.
Epling agreed that the contract with Premier Physicians needs a complete review. Then there will be a need to see if other providers of medical and pharmacy services can be more competitive.
Epling added that it’s important to realize that this is just one line item of their total budget in the Sheriff’s office. This could be over 8 percent of the 2016 budget for the Sheriff’s office of $729,956.