Charging Inmates More for Their Health Care Really Not Working Out For Texas

prisoner in jail.jpg
Because of a new law passed in the last legislative session, Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates are now faced with a choice when they need to see a doctor: pay a yearly $100 fee, or don't go in for treatment at all. As the Texas Tribune reports today, many of them are choosing the latter.

The law was House Bill 26 , sponsored by Representative Jerry Madden, a Republican from Plano. It required a $100 annual fee for prisoners who use any medical services; inmates who were unable to pay would have 50 percent of the money deposited into their trust funds by their family and friends taken out until the fee is covered. Indigent inmates -- those with $5 or less in their accounts -- wouldn't have any money taken from their trust funds. The idea, Madden said at the time, was to try to recoup some of the roughly $950 million that taxpayers put towards inmate medical care every two years.

The new fee was supposed to raise $9.9 million over 2012 and 2013, including $5.7 million this year. Instead, it's raised less than half of that so far, about $2.5 million. In contrast, the $3 copay that inmates previously paid per visit generated around $500,000 a year.

Critics of the law warn that prisoners who forgo medical care could develop serious or contagious illnesses that will eventually cost the state much more.

"My big question is whether that copay is really saving any money," attorney Michelle Smith told the Trib. "Because more serious complaints that develop from lack of early detection end up costing more in the long run." An inmate client of Smith's recently missed a court date when he became ill with what he thought was the flu. He decided not to see a doctor because of the cost and ultimately developed pneumonia.

It's not as though Texas inmates are receiving particularly plush medical attention; in the last legislative session, lawmakers also cut around $120 million from prison healthcare, forcing providers to cut clinic hours and reduce vaccinations. Texas spends an average of $9.88 per inmate per day, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project. California, which pays about $28 an inmate, had its prison system declared unconstitutional last year and was ordered to release 40,000 inmates.

Even Madden, who authored the bill, concedes that the fee structure may need to be tweaked, although he still defends the law's original intent. "I believe it was the right thing to do at the time," he told the Tribune. "I still think it's a reasonable thing to do." And fixing the fee structure likely won't be Madden's problem anyway; he announced last year that he wouldn't run for reelection. His term ends in January.



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12 comments
scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Even slave masters provided health care to their slaves.  After all, you even call a vet for your Ox.  It's untoward, but there's a fair argument that pre-emancipated slaves were better treated than they were after they were freed.  I don't know how you value the "freedom" they enjoyed with emancipation, but many freedmen died of starvation, poor healthcare, and other privations that they suffered only after they were no longer owned.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

The " They are gonna pay" sound good nature of the fix falls silent when it comes to applying it to the real world .

Remember the Ticket surcharge for Drivers a few years ago that didn't work out as planned ?

 

CraigT42
CraigT42

I consider myself anything but soft on convicted criminals, but this is stupid and unconstitutional.  When you take away someone's liberty, no matter how justified, you also take on the responsibility of caring for that person.  You don't have to like it (I don't), but to do otherwise brings you down to their level.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @AdultBabies Maybe if we quit locking people up for ridiculous offenses like possession of small quantities of marijuana and *cared for*, rather than incarcerating our mentally ill, we could manage our jail / prison populations more efficiently.

ket354
ket354

@AdultBabies If that were so. But, if you read the article, they aren't actually paying, because you can't really force them, and in the end they may be getting sicker and costing us taxpayers more money. So stop trying to be all Sherrif Joe and just continue the cheap care that reduces the overall cost to me, the taxpayer.

TurdFerguson
TurdFerguson

@TheCredibleHulk @AdultBabies Or a shoo-in maybe

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @AdultBabies Riiiiiight... and your "conservative" super-powers abrogate your need for insurance, I suppose.

 

By the way, are you a coalition of babies, or is it just you? Because I think you've got your suffix screwed up in your user-name.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @AdultBabies Careful what you wish for.

 

If we start executing the mentally ill, you're a shoe-in to be first in line.

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