Charging Jail Inmates for Medical CareOct 28th, 2012 | By admin | Category: Conditions in County Jails, Dallas County
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said Tuesday that she will soon begin charging certain jail inmates for their basic medical expenses, a practice common in some other states and a few Texas counties.
Valdez said Tuesday that within six months she will implement the plan to charge inmates a medical co-payment by tapping money in their commissary accounts, which they use to buy such items as toiletries and snacks. Inmates and their families put money in the accounts.
Those without commissary money will not be charged for medical services, officials said, and emergency and chronic care will still be covered by taxpayers.
“The families are putting money there and inmates can use it for gummy bears or to take care of their health,” said County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Dallas County spent $32.3 million last year on jail medical services, which are provided by Parkland Memorial Hospital, said budget director Ryan Brown. Roughly 65 to 70 percent of the total inmate population receives some medical care, he said.
The Sheriff’s Department is working with Parkland to establish fees to charge for certain medical services, Price said.
The county has explored the co-payment idea, which is used in Travis, Harris and Collin counties, since 2004. But it has only become possible with a new three-year, $18 million commissary contract that the county commissioners awarded Tuesday to Keefe Commissary Network, Price said.
Keefe first won a commissary contract from the county in 2006.
When inmates buy snacks, for example, electronic devices are used to scan bracelets that they wear, which automatically deducts money from their accounts. Paying for medical services will operate the same way, Price said.
Initially, the plan was to charge separate fees for nurse and doctor visits as well as medications, Price said. But now it’ll begin with a nurse fee and later expand.
The idea is not to generate revenue for the county but to cut recurring costs of transporting inmates to receive care, Price said.
“We won’t get what is called frivolous calls. So it saves us on staff,” he said. “We’ve got to try to contain costs where we can. Most of the time it’s about staff.”
Collin County charges $10 for a sick call visit, $3 for each medication prescription, and $15 for a doctor visit as well as a dental visit, officials there said. Mental health services are free as are chronic care services for such things as blood pressure conditions and diabetes.
Bexar, Fayette and Stephens counties also charge jail inmates for medical services, said Adan Munoz, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
A bill that would have increased inmate medical fees in state prisons passed the House in June but died after failing to receive support in the Senate. The bill, authored by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, would have charged prisoners $100 per year for medical care unless they were poor.
Currently, state prisoners pay $3 per doctor’s visit.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill in 2010 to allow county jails to charge inmates for medical services. One county in Arkansas recently began charging inmates $25 for each doctor or dentist visit.
Counties in other states such as New Jersey and Illinois implemented jail medical co-payment plans as far back as the mid-1990s. Officials in those states said such measures cut back on the number of inmates faking illnesses to get out of their cells.
But critics of such fees have called them a tax on inmates’ families, who are putting money into inmate trust accounts.
County Judge Clay Jenkins said he has some questions about the Valdez plan but generally supports the concept of “system users” helping to pay their own way.
Brown said most people in the U.S. have to share the costs of receiving heath care, and said that Dallas County’s new arrangement will leave inmates with a simple choice.
“Do you want an aspirin or do you want a Twinkie?” he said.