California prison officials, stung by legislators' criticism about the high-cost of medical care, said Wednesday they will expedite medical parole procedures for 10 especially high-cost prisoners who are housed in hospitals outside prisons.
All 10 are said to be in persistent vegetative states or on ventilators.
About two dozen felons are so ill that they are being cared for in hospitals around the state at a cost estimated to be $50 million a year. Overall, the cost of providing health care to inmates is about $2 billion annually.
The issue has taken on urgency as lawmakers seek to balance a budget with a $26.6 billion deficit.
Caring for debilitated inmates in hospitals runs $5,000 a day, a price tag driven higher because the state pays two correctional officers to guard them 24-hours a day. By granting them medical parole, the department could cut the cost of guarding them.
Matthew Cate, director of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, requested the identities of the inmates a week after Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and other lawmakers questioned the pace at which officials were considering medical parole.
Leno authored the medical parole legislation last year, contending it would save tens of millions of dollars annually. He chastised corrections officials in a budget hearing last week after learning the department had not implemented the law five months after it was signed.
J. Clark Kelso, the federal receiver overseeing California prison health care, pushed for the 2010 legislation, SB 1399.
Nancy Kincaid, the receiver's spokeswoman, said Kelso's office identified the inmates on Wednesday, the same day that Cate requested the names and urged that their cases be expedited. One had been on a ventilator since 2003. Others had been in hospitals since 2004, and 2005.
Corrections spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said that corrections will turn the names over to the Board of Parole Hearings, which will decide whether to grant medical parole.
While many of the paroled patients will end up on Medi-Cal, officials say the state will save money on their medical care because the federal government picks up half the Medi-Cal tab. And as parolees, they would no longer be guarded.
Hidalgo said it remains unclear where the individuals might be housed.
"It gets pretty complicated," Hidalgo said.