A newly enacted Pennsylvania act may help prisons like the Carbon County Correctional Facility find relief from rising inmate medical health care.

During the county prison board meeting on Wednesday, Robert Crampsie, county controller, reported that during the prison's medical cost containment board meeting, Act 22 of 2011 was discussed. Act 22, which went into effect on July 1, provides help with payments of inmate medical health care bills for eligible inmates.

According to the Pennsylvania Prison Wardens Association website, "Under the new law payment for care for inmates of state and county correctional facilities would be limited to Medicaid rates for inpatient care and Medicare fee-for-service rates for outpatient care."

Crampsie explained that under Act 22, all county inmates who are eligible for Medicaid when the are incarcerated may still be covered by Medicaid when they require hospital stays or medical treatment. This would cut down on the bills the county must pay for medical treatment of inmates who require off-site care.

In past years, the county incurred medical bills in excess of $100,000 for inmates who required hospital stays, ambulance services, or Medevac.

"This really could be significant savings for our inmate medical costs," he said. "This is something very good for the prison and also for the taxpayers of Carbon County because I think we're going to see some savings."

The other part of the legislation, Crampsie pointed out, was that the county can ask outside providers to bill inmate medical treatment at Medicare and Medicaid rates, which are lower than standard rates.

Randall Smith, county administrator, added that the Carbon County Assistance Office in Lehighton will be the contact for this new legislation and will be an asset for the county when determining what it can do under the act.

In other inmate cost matters, the board decided that the prison will keep the $15 fee that inmates will be charged to see the in-house doctor.

Members of the board discussed the matter again after it was noted last month that the rate, which had been raised in December, had been lowered to the original $5 fee by prison officials after some inmates, who needed medications, were refusing to pay the increased rate.

At that meeting, board members questioned if an action to change the rate back to the original fee was ever taken. It was determined that no action was taken.

Some members also raised concerns about the possibility of being challenged because of the hike.

Yesterday, the board agreed that they would take that risk because they felt it was not fair to county employees who must pay a $15 copay for medical coverage when inmates are charged less.

Officials instructed Warden Joseph Gross that effective immediately, the fee for doctor and nurse visits will be $15.