Houston County, Southeast Health work towards agreement for inmate medical costs

Houston County taking on inmate medical costs

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Houston County commissioners and Southeast Health appear to have come to some mutual agreement regarding inmate healthcare expenses.

Monday, commissioners approved the county paying Medicare rates - which is a discounted rate - for inmates to continue to receive special medical attention at the hospital.

For years, Houston County inmates had been treated at Southeast Health at no charge to the county. In 2017, the hospital started billing the county for inmate treatment - much to the surprise of some commissioners.

“By law we’re required to pay these medical expenses. I’m not contesting that," said Brandon Shoupe, District 4 Commissioner. “We have historically not been billed for medical care for inmates and I would like to know why suddenly we need to start.”

Shoupe says some of the bills were upwards of $60,000.

“Every day - every week, I get invoices sent to me from our medical staff at the jail for our inmates and every inmate that has to go to an outside source,”said Major Bill Rafferty, Houston County Sheriff’s Office.

While the county acknowledges covering inmate medical care is a cost they have to take on - Commissioner Shoupe expressed concern about why the full payments are required now and the impact on the overall county budget long-term and short-term.

“If we’re held to pay the full price tab on medical bills it will bankrupt this county,” said Shoupe. “The county can’t raise any revenue, so we have to be careful about what expenses we take on.”

Shoupe also cited concerns about having money in the budget after paying inmate medical bills for things like road repaving or paying for deputies to serve as security in schools.

Shoupe says he hopes this agreement is the first step to continue to talk with the hospital about driving down costs.

Southeast Hospital released this statement regarding the matter:

Section 14-6-19 of the Code of Alabama outlines the counties responsibilities as it pertains to providing healthcare for prisoners. Southeast Health Medical Center has provided the Houston County Commission and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office an agreement which allows the county to pay discounted rates for inmate care. The fee schedule is equivalent to Medicare rates, which would be the same rate the Federal Government pays for healthcare services. Southeast Health began billing the county for inmate care in August of 2017. The agreement allows the rates to be retroactively applied to previous bills. Our annual cost of uncompensated care exceeds $20 million with $9 million attributed to the care of Houston County residents. Communities across the nation recognize the need to have strong, progressive hospitals in their back yard. We’re fortunate that Houston County residents also chose to support their hospital in this manner. And while the amount of uncompensated care is much higher that the 2.5 mils of property taxes, we are grateful for the investment.

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