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Want a 50-cent doctor visit copay? Become a Missouri inmate

Want a 50-cent doctor visit copay? Become a Missouri inmate

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JEFFERSON CITY • In an effort to teach Missouri’s 32,000 inmates to be more responsible, some state lawmakers want to subject offenders to a mandatory copay for each nonemergency visit to the prison infirmary.

The amount: 50 cents.

“This is what we do in real life. You release them into the public, they are going to have to pay a copay,” Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake Saint Louis, told the House Corrections Committee on Wednesday.

He added that it was a bargain price compared to the world outside prison.

“I’d take 50 cents all day long,” he said.

Moments later, the committee voted 8-2 in favor of House Bill 129, which moves the effort forward. Though the practice has a long way to go before it could be enforced, in 2014 the Legislature cracked down on prisoner purse books by levying sales tax on various commissary and canteen items, a move that reportedly could garner $1 million in annual revenue.

Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who sponsored the new bill, said the 50-cent copay would reflect the policy in federal prisons. And he said it would teach inmates that there would be “no free ride,” while deterring frivolous requests to see the doctor in order to escape the “daily grind of prison life.”

“The average inmate goes to the doctor five times per month. That’s pretty extensive,” Brattin said by telephone Thursday. “I haven’t been to the doctor in no telling how long.”

The Department of Corrections is required by law to provide medical care for prisoners, a mounting tab that currently runs about $150 million a year. Brattin said if the number of unnecessary visits to the doctor are cut it would be a bargaining chip the next time the medical services contract is negotiated.

Rep. Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, and Bonnaye Mims, D-Kansas City, voted against the bill.

Gardner, a former St. Louis prosecutor, didn’t think it would save money because the medical services contract is a flat fee. She said in an interview that she preferred to focus on offering educational programs and job training to inmates.

“I am for personal responsibility, but I think there is another way to do it,” she said.

Many inmates are indigent and rely on a $7.50 monthly stipend from the state for correspondence, hygiene products and other items such as candy.

“If you take 50 cents out, that’s an undue burden on a person who has limited funds already,” Gardner said.

If an inmate has a high school diploma or GED, the stipend is bumped to $8.50. Some inmates also earn wages doing the laundry and other jobs.

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