On average, each of the more than 37,000 inmates within Missouri’s prisons receives medical care five times per month. That’s according to state Rep. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville). He wants to reduce the number of what he thinks are frivolous or unnecessary visits by charging prisoners a 50 cent copay each time they seek healthcare services.
“This would allow for medical staff to really give care to the ones who are in need,” says Brattin. “Everyone has to pay a copay when they go. This is no different from anyone else in society. The court challenges and things like that have all been in favor of a copay system.”
Brattin hopes the move would save money in the state’s tight budget.
“We do a contract every few years on the medical treatment that’s provided for inmates and that’s roughly around $200 million in cost,” says Brattin.
Governor Greitens has proposed $147 million for state prisoner healthcare in his state budget that begins July 1.
Brattin says copay revenue could go back into the Corrections budget or be used for things like increasing correctional officer pay. Missouri has the lowest paid state workers in the nation.
Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis) is concerned about inmates with serious health issues.
“I agree with the objective to kind of lessen the burden on the infirmaries I guess,” says Franks. “What I worry about is what will be taken seriously and what hasn’t been taken seriously.”
Some Corrections officials have implementation and logistical concerns about Brattin’s bill. The Corrections department says the changes would cost approximately $500,000 per year for additional staff and resources. Brattin doesn’t believe there would be any additional costs and says the fiscal note is zero.
Offenders receive a monthly stipend of about $7.50. Those who don’t have the money to pay for a visit, will not be denied. State law requires that inmates are provided healthcare while behind bars.
Franks questions what deters prisoners from seeking medical attention if they are going to be cared for regardless.
“For the person that’s indigent and has no funds, I guess nothing is going to stop them,” says Brattin. “Those that are trying to save money to maybe buy things from the commissary, that is something that inmates definitely look forward to, the ability to have those extras. Just like any of us wanting to have those extras within our budget.”
This is the seventh year that Brattin has offered the measure. A House committee is expected to vote this week on his bill.