Friday, February 12 , 2016, 1:03 am | Fair 52º

County to Cover Inmate’s $500,000 in Annual Prescription Drug Costs

Board of Supervisors approves the unexpected expense, which exceeds the jail's annual Rx budget, and discusses alternatives for handling such cases

Regardless of cost, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the County Jail, is required to provide inmates with a minimum standard of medical care while a suspect is in custody. One current inmate — accused of attempted murder — has a medical condition whose treatment costs $2,760 per dose for a minimum of three doses a week.
Regardless of cost, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the County Jail, is required to provide inmates with a minimum standard of medical care while a suspect is in custody. One current inmate — accused of attempted murder — has a medical condition whose treatment costs $2,760 per dose for a minimum of three doses a week.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

With no small amount of chagrin, the Santa Barbara County Board Supervisors approved on Tuesday an unbudgeted $500,000 to pay for prescriptions needed for an inmate with a life-threatening condition.

The inmate, whose name and medical condition have not been released because of patient privacy laws, was arrested in February and booked into the County Jail on a charge of attempted murder and is likely to remain in custody for a significant period of time.

The cost of the man’s medicine, estimated at $510,048, is more than the jail’s entire annual budget for prescription drugs for all inmates, but because the jail must provide treatment for inmates, the county was forced to pay.

Sheriff Bill Brown reiterated Tuesday that electronic monitoring for the man wouldn’t be appropriate based on the severity of the charges.

The man requires a dose of the medication three times a week, with each dose costing $2,760. Before his arrest, the suspect received his medication free through a state program. That funding source, known as the Genetically Handicapped Persons Program and administered by the state Department of Health Care Services, helps provide medical care for genetic conditions such as hemophilia and cystic fibrosis.

Because the man is now incarcerated, he no longer qualifies.

Sheriff Brown said the department expects more challenges as the jail is forced to assume mental and physical health care for inmates as a result of Assembly Bill 109, the public safety realignment bill aimed at reducing overcrowding, costs and recidivism in state prisons. Under the law, more convicted criminals are allowed to serve their sentences in county jails rather than be sent to state prisons.

Though the inmate is not in custody because of AB 109, “it’s just one more challenge that we’re all facing. It’s certainly not the way I’d like to see money spent in our budget,” Brown said, adding that the amount could pay for four custody deputies for a new jail. “Unfortunately, the law is the law.”

Whether the inmate was in state prison or the county jail, his pricey medical care is still funded by California taxpayers — a fact not lost on either the Sheriff Brown or the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Doreen Farr asked whether the county Public Health Department had explored obtaining the medications cheaper through Canadian pharmacies.

Public Health Director Dr. Takashi Wada said the medication was “rare and not readily available,” but that he would check with pharmacists about getting a cheaper deal internationally.

Supervisor Janet Wolf recommended that the county’s legislative committee look into the issue.

“At some point, it’s going to break the bank, and I’m sure we’re not the only county that this has happened to,” she said. “It’s pretty outrageous to me.”

Supervisor Joni Gray asked Brown what would happen if a similar inmate situation popped up in Alpine County, where only about 1,200 people live and pay county taxes.

When Brown responded that Alpine County would be just as obligated to pay, Gray responded, “It could theoretically bankrupt a county.”

Brown said there are insurance policies that could cover such cases, and the county had considered them at some point but the premiums were inordinately high.

Farr said the case highlights something the county may be faced with as realignment sets in.

“There’s nothing to stop us from having half a dozen cases with expensive medications that we have to take care of for years and years,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 03.21.12 @ 05:57 AM

Next time Governor Moonbeam or the City Council/Board of Supervisors attempts to raise your taxes, remember this article.

» on 03.21.12 @ 12:24 PM

California has one of the highest tax rates in the nation yet we face chronic budget shortfalls. Think about the number of teachers we could hire instead of spending $500,000 on an inmates prescription. The people have lost all control over how to prioritize spending of our limited resources. Write your elected representatives and demand change.

Lois Capps at

Das Willimas at

Boxer and Feinstein at

Tony Strickland at

» on 03.21.12 @ 12:55 PM

You’d think somebody who was so dependent on the largesse of society would be better behaved. Let’s see: he’s genetically handicapped AND a threat to society?

Why not let nature run its course?

» on 03.21.12 @ 01:57 PM

Just the latest outrage in the Peoples’ Republic of California.

» on 03.21.12 @ 06:22 PM

They’re “early-releasing” people anyway, just let him out, he won’t be able to pay for his own medical care, and should no longer qualify for free state care due to his criminal record (just as it’s been recently determined that sex offenders should no longer qualify for their pensions. Wow really? Who finally came up with that bright idea?), and then he’ll die. That sounds quicker and cheaper. Where has all the common sense gone? It’s just GONE! Our society has become truly ludicrous!

» on 03.21.12 @ 09:00 PM

Everyone, work harder!  Lots of folks’ health care and humane incarceration depends on you working hard, and harder!  You should be glad to forego your own health care issues for the greater good, like, paying $500,000/year for a violent criminals health care!

» on 03.22.12 @ 01:36 AM

What would happen if the County simply didn’t pay for his care?

This is so out of whack that a future court challenge would probably end up in the County’s favor.

I hope the County decides to take that route.

» on 03.23.12 @ 09:12 PM

It would be interesting to know how much the insurance would have been that the Sheriff decided was too expensive. Please, Noozhawk, follow this story.

» on 03.26.12 @ 03:18 PM

Why is the county of SB responsible for paying for this person’s medications

Is the state able to lose the responsibility of paying for these medications because the guy is in custody; or, is it because our having the guy in custody allows the state to transfer the responsibility to us ….

Either way, I wonder, where is the premise that one is considered innocent until proven guilty

I mean, I can understand why one who is in custody is not qualified to continue to receive, for example, SSI payments, since one is provided with ‘room and board’ in custody, but shouldn’t medical care, for which for the person has already qualified, continue until such time the person would be declared guilty of a crime that would disqualify him from receiving these benefits

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