One of the key responsibilities for the state is running the prison system. Overall we spend about $1.5 billion on the entire corrections system, including medical care for inmates. The US Constitution requires that inmates receive healthcare that meets the same standards as is available to the rest of the community.
Two new drugs have recently become available for treating Hepatitis C, an infectious disease that affects up to 20% of the prison population. The drugs are a miracle – and may save lots of money in the long run by avoiding the liver damage that comes from Hepatitis C. Of course, there’s a “but” to this silver lining. As you can see in this NPR story, it can cost up to $150,000 for a course of treatment for a single patient.
Our estimate for the cost to the Washington corrections system over the next three years is about $210 million, plus about $20 million a year out into the future. Wow. Not a place I’m excited about spending money, but a clear constitutional requirement and an opportunity to have a huge positive impact on the health status of a troubled population.