NORMAN — District 3 Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan returned from Washington, D.C., this week. He serves on the steering committee for Justice and Public Safety.
“One of the main reasons for going up there is the new national health bill says you must be insured,” Sullivan said.
That could be to the county’s advantage. When prisoners are incarcerated in the county jail, the county is responsible for any health care that isn’t billed out to Medicaid or insurance.
“Criminals are the only sector in the United States that we must provide health care for,” Sullivan said.
Those costs can be high. The criminal population doesn’t tend to be the healthiest demographic in the nation. Getting health care paid for through the new health system could relieve the financial burden on counties.
But Oklahoma’s rejection of the system has put a glitch in the works. In addition, detention facilities will have to figure out how to bill health insurance for inmate costs.
“I personally think it should be part of the book-in system,” Sullivan said. “That’s one of the things I’m working on right now.”
The county can file for medical treatment and medicine reimbursements, but Sullivan said because Oklahoma opted out of the federal plan, counties need guidance from the state insurance commissioner on how to proceed.
Sullivan said meetings in Washington also included information and discussion on recidivism, re-entry and pretrial release.
“These are all things that will lessen the county’s burden of cost,” he said.
Another primary topic of discussion centered around mental illness.
Sullivan said he learned at the conference that more than two million people in prison are mentally ill. An estimated 10 million are booked into jails.
“Jails have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill,” he said.