Chairwoman Creem, Chairman O’Flaherty, and members of the Committee, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today. I am here in support of H. 1487, An Act Relative to Health Services in Massachusetts Correctional Institutions, House of Corrections, and Jails.
It has been said that to understand society, one needs to look within its prisons. Within prison walls one can see, up front and center, people afflicted by racism and poverty. In fact people of color, underrepresented minorities, and those from economically impoverished communities compose the majority of prisoners. Prisoners, therefore, represent some of the most marginalized populations in the United States, housed in one structural and cultural institution.
Prisoners are one of the most vulnerable populations in our health care system. They face numerous health problems. They suffer from chronic illness, sexually transmitted infections, drug and alcohol addiction, and mental illness at rates many times that of the general population. Within prison walls one can observe patients with a historical lack of health care access, often not receiving prior medical treatment for their diseases. Consequently, prisoners often present with a higher prevalence of medical illnesses such as late stage disease complications (liver cirrhosis, diabetes), communicable diseases (HIV Hepatitis B, TB), and diseases of addiction (end stage alcoholism and drug addiction).
With 97 percent of inmates eventually returning to the community, their health problems turn into health problems for the community. Yet, inmates face a labyrinth of obstacles to getting timely and appropriate medical care. Health care in prisons is one of the last items to garner attention and funding.
H. 1487 would provide for improved medical treatment for those incarcerated in Massachusetts’ prisons and jails. It would create guidelines for health services, accessing cost containment measures, and integrating healthcare during incarceration into the existing continuum of care in our state. Health services shall provide inmates with drug treatment and rehabilitation as well as any other medical treatments to successfully complete said drug treatment and rehabilitation. This legislation would also instruct the commissioner of correction and the directors of the county facilities to review the training of prison personnel and, where necessary, shall improve their training to include the ability to recognize an inmate’s potential need for medical care and to facilitate such services.
This legislation would also incorporate that all health services for inmates shall include nigh quality health care while leveraging cost containment measures. The Commonwealth will authorize the health care and costs as part of any other state health care program. This will include, but not be limited to, bulk purchasing of prescription medication, uniform billing, contracting with non-profit providers, prevention services and leveraging of better service prices through joint negotiation and pooling of consumers.
Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. I respectfully request that the Committee adopt a favorable report for H. 1487 as expeditiously as possible.