Pay for Prison Health Care Providers Increases During Federal Oversight
Compensation for health care providers working in California prisons has increased significantly since a federal receiver was appointed to reformÂ the state'sÂ prison health system, the AP/Vacaville Reporter reports (Thompson, AP/Vacaville Reporter, 10/23).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson appointed J. Clark Kelso to oversee prison health care in the state after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect (California Healthline, 9/6).
The federal receivership has reduced costs for health care services performed outside of prisons by 50% by increasing the number ofÂ inmates with illnesses who are treated by prison doctors.
Under the receivership, Kelso has the power to hire health care providers and set their pay levels.
According to an AP analysis of state payroll data, 44 of the 100 highest-paid state workers outside of the University of California system worked in prisons. Those workers had an average income of nearly $379,000 annually.
According to the state Department of Finance, California has higher base salaries for prison physicians than other highly populated states, including:
- New York; and
DOF found that Texas is the only U.S. state with higher base salaries for prison physicians than California.
Criticisms of Increasing Payments
Critics say that while salary increases and the hiring of more providers have helped improve inmate care, they also have increased taxpayer spending on prisons.
Opponents also say that Kelso has enabled a prison health system that provides a "Cadillac" level of care for inmates.
Former state Sen. George Runner (R) said that the receiver is "not accountable to anybody" and can "do or choose to spend whatever amount of money" that he thinks is necessary on prison health care.
Defense of Increasing Payments
However, others say that prison doctors deserve higher pay because they face the threat of violence by inmates and because prisons are located in remote regions in the state.
David Mathis -- a physician at the California Medical Facility who was paid about $410,000 last year, the most of any prison doctor -- said that the prison health care system has improved "because we've got better [doctors] who are willing to work in these less-than-ideal situations and are being adequately compensated."Nancy Kincaid -- spokesperson for the federal receiver -- said that paying physicians to work nights and weekends is cheaper than hiring additional doctors and providing them with full salaries and benefits (AP/Vacaville Reporter, 10/23). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.