Otis, the town drunk, used to lock himself in one of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s cells in the Andy Griffith TV show, then check out the next morning when he was sober. That was then; this is now. Missouri sheriffs are looking for ways to pay the costs of their jail inmates who require medical care—and somebody like Otis probably would. But several things are making it hard to find an answer. Today if a drunk is taken to the jail and a breathalyzer shows a sufficiently high blood alcohol level, federal guidelines won’t let that person sleep it off in the jail. At certain levels, that person is considered suffering from alcohol poisoning and goes to a hospital…. In most cases, the sheriff is stuck with the hospital bill…..A lot of inmates can’t afford the treatments….and the head of the Missouri sheriff’s assocaition, Mick Covington, says medicaid is no help because a person loses medicaid benefits when they’re arrested, and the benefits are not reinstated until they’re reinstated. That leaves sheriffs in something of a medicaid doughnut hole. Some sheriffs are forcing inmates to make minimal co-pays for medical care. Some cut deals with medical care providers for reduced fees. A few can fall back on the inmate’s insurance, if there is any. Some sheriffs, but not many, have health insurance policies for inmate care. But Covington says there’s no uniform way to deal with the growing problem, some vague law, and a doughnut hole in the medicaid program. Sheriffs tried to get the legislature this year to let them refuse to accept sick people as inmates. That bill failed.
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