County officials question $70,000 surgery for inmate

Mar 13, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County commissioners have expressed concern about taxpayers being responsible for a jail inmate getting gall bladder surgery at a cost of $70,000.

"There's a lot that concerns me about that voucher," commissioner Travis Becker said a meeting in February.

"No. 1, the medications are outrageous," Becker said, noting a $1,400-per-day pricetag. "There's got to be some way to reduce the cost to taxpayers."

Sheriff Skip Hornecker explained the voucher after commissioners flagged it during their regular approval process.

Hornecker said the $70,000 voucher included the surgery and hospitalization.

About "$30,000 of that was a gall bladder surgery that apparently went bad," he said.

The remaining $40,000 covered medications and care at Lander Regional Hospital for 10 days, Hornecker said, noting a 30 percent discount from the institution.

Hornecker said he had no choice but to pay for the inmate's medical procedure.

"The fact that person was in detention for three months before the gall bladder problem makes it ours," he said of the responsibility.

The concerns about medical costs for inmates at the Fremont County Detention Center are nothing new.

"It is something we have been dealing with my entire career in law enforcement," Hornecker said.

"Quite frankly, this year we are getting spanked in our medical line item and our out-of-county inmates," he said.

He said questions constantly arise about the level of responsibility for paying inmate medical costs.

"We've actually pushed it to the point of near litigation whether we pay these bills or whether it's our obligation," he said.

His staff works to lessen the costs of medical treatment in the jail. For instance, one of his lieutenants continuously reviews medical bills to ensure they are accurate, he said.

"They often rebill because someone will catch something that shouldn't be billed," Hornecker said.

Most of the time, inmates do not have any medical insurance to bill.

"Each and every one of them is considered for health insurance," Hornecker said. "However, as it stands to reason, the people that are usually in detention are the ones without health insurance."

Additionally, people with government-funded health care such as from Indian Health Service, Veterans Administration and others cannot use the option in jail.

"As soon as they become incarcerated, those health care options are taken away," Hornecker said.

Oftentimes inmates are not in the best health when they arrive in jail, he added.

"We tend to get caught up with inmates with severe medical (issues)," he said, estimating about 80 percent to 90 percent suffer from an addiction problem.

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