SACRAMENTO -- California could gain tens of millions of dollars annually in federal reimbursements for prison health care under the nation's new health law, state and federal officials said Tuesday.
The money would come from Medicaid reimbursements for inmates who are treated in outside hospitals. It would not help pay for health care within prisons.
A study of prison health care spending released by The Pew Charitable Trusts cites an estimate from California's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office that the state could save nearly $70 million annually.
The study assumes that California will take full advantage of a change in federal law that will make Medicaid coverage available to low-income childless adults. States can also get a higher reimbursement rate for newly enrolled inmates.
The court-appointed official who controls California's prison medical system uses a more conservative projection of $40 million in savings. The state Department of Finance projects $20 million in additional annual reimbursements for inmates through Medi-Cal and California's Low Income Health Program.
The lower estimates are partly because California already was seeking reimbursement for some inmates and because it is sending fewer inmates to outside hospitals. The state recently opened an $839 million facility in Stockton to treat seriously ill inmates.
The projected savings would be a fraction of the nearly $9 billion the state spends on the prison system, of which more than $2 billion goes for inmates' medical, mental health and dental care.