California Assembly Approves Eliminating Co-Pays in Prisons and Jails

(From Press Release) – Today, California’s Assembly passed Assembly Bill 45, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) with a vote of 44 to 19. AB 45 eliminates medical and dental copayments and charges for health care appliances in prisons and jails.

“People in here refuse medical service because of copays,” said Juan Moreno Haines, an incarcerated journalist and winner of the Silver Heart Award from the Society of Professional Journalists who has been incarcerated for 23 years and currently resides at San Quentin State Prison. “Making a choice between buying deodorant and going to the doctor, that’s not a choice anyone should have to make, particularly people who are as predictably poor as the people in here.”

While earning no wages, people incarcerated in most county jails must pay a copay, along with fees, to initiate a medical or dental visit and to receive medical appliances like dentures. Requiring a copay in order to receive care puts incarcerated people’s health at risk. Some people delay seeking treatment or don’t seek treatment at all. This can lead to permanent health consequences and require more aggressive and expensive treatment down the road.

When people can’t afford to pay upfront but need care, county jails place a financial hold on their commissary account, which prevents people from purchasing basic necessities, including over-the-counter medication and necessary hygiene products, as well as phone cards, stamps, and paper to maintain contact with family and other support systems. Due to the overrepresentation of Black and brown people in California’s criminal justice system, a lack of access to needed health care exacerbates existing health disparities in these communities.

Since Assemblymember Stone’s introduction of the bill, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stopped charging copays for medical and dental visits, and has cleared the medical debt people accrued by while housed in their facilities. CDCR now joins 8 counties– Contra Costa, Inyo, Modoc, Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Tulare– and 8 states in removing this barrier to healthcare access.

While the CDCR has changed its policy, AB 45 offers a permanent solution to ensure the CDCR does not reverse this policy at a later time, and so that people in jails will gain equal access to healthcare.

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