VerHeulen: House approves plan to save taxpayer money while more efficiently caring for medically frail inmates

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The Michigan House and Rep. Rob VerHeulen approved legislation allowing certain chronically ill prisoners to be relocated to medical facilities, a plan designed to provide quality health care while saving taxpayer money and protecting public safety.

The legislation does not allow early release of inmates, but permits some inmates with severe and chronic physical or mental disabilities to complete their sentences at a medical facility rather than inside a prison if approved by a parole board. Only inmates classified by professionals as not posing a risk to public safety would be allowed to relocate. Prosecutors and victims could appeal decisions, and inmates convicted of first-degree murder or first-degree criminal sexual conduct would automatically be ineligible for the program – meaning they stay behind bars.

“This legislation makes good sense from a humanitarian perspective, while also protecting the rights of crime victims and helping protect public safety,” said VerHeulen, who sponsors one of the bills in the legislative package. “There should also be a cost savings to the state, which is another significant consideration in adopting this plan.”

VerHeulen, of Walker, noted it is extremely expensive to repeatedly bring a doctor or nurse into a prison cell to provide specialized care for a direly sick inmate. Care could be provided more efficiently at a specialized medical facility, and once a patient is there, the care may be covered by Medicaid – which would translate to a net savings for taxpayers.

Chronically ill prisoners often have health care costs that are several times higher than the average inmate. Aging inmates also have substantially higher than average health care costs, and they are far more likely to become medically frail.

That’s a growing concern in Michigan, where nearly one in four inmates is 50 or older with the average age continuing to rise. Health care already takes up 15 percent of the prison system budget.

An initial projection from the Department of Corrections estimates roughly 40 to 60 prisoners could potentially be eligible for the program. The number could grow over time as the prison population ages.

“The inmates who would be considered for this program are extremely sick and often may be near the end of their lives, bedridden and unable to feed themselves or complete other common daily tasks,” VerHeulen said. “Inmates who are considered threats to public safety will not be in this program.”

The legislation advances to the Senate for consideration.


The legislation: House Bills 4101-3 and 5245.