Over the last several months, the New Hampshire Department of Corrections has needed an additional $6.5 million to keep up with inmate medical costs, including a 176 percent increase in ambulance costs since 2022. It’s not alone among correctional agencies. The superintendent of the Cheshire County, N.H., jail has seen some medical costs jump 25 percent since last year. Merrimack County jail is looking at a 15 percent increase in its next budget. Unable to recruit medical staff to work in its jail, Rockingham County increased wages by $162,000, News From The States reports. The causes are many, from huge increases in the costs of some medications and a new approach to treating substance use disorder behind bars, to sicker patients with expensive medical needs. The costs fall to taxpayers even for the many inmates who had Medicaid insurance because they lose that coverage while they are incarcerated. While state law allows prisons to parole people for medical reasons, the cost of their care is not among them.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster repeatedly has introduced federal legislation that would allow inmates to keep Medicaid while incarcerated. She said it’s good both for inmates who can maintain their health care and counties and states that are picking up the costs. So far, she’s been without success. Doug Iosue, superintendent at the Cheshire County jail, has a $50,000 budget for medical care provided outside the jail for his approximately 100 inmates and one inmate who needs dialysis at a cost of $6,000 a month. “The thing that goes to the larger issues for me is that health care costs are resting with corrections in a way that I don’t think serves the best interest,” Iosue said. “(People) end up in the system incarcerated and … jails and prisons were not designed to be hospitals, health care providers, detox centers, and mental health providers.”