Nebraska inmate copay bill faces resistance in Legislature


Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill that would allow Nebraska jails and prisons to charge a copayment for inmates faced resistance Friday in the Legislature even though most states already allow the practice.

Nebraska lawmakers debated the proposal but adjourned for the week without a vote.

The proposal would allow for copayments of up to $10 for every self-initiated, non-emergency visit to a health care provider. Exceptions would include treatment for mental health, preexisting conditions, chronic illnesses and medical emergencies.

Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill said he introduced the measure after talking with a county sheriff in his district who complained about inmates abusing the system to get time away from jail. Counties end up paying part of the cost of care, and a deputy often has to break from regular duties to drive an inmate to the doctor or dentist.

Larson said inmates who are unable to pay would still receive medical care, but jails could deduct from their future commissary payment until the copayment was made.

Opponents said the measure could discourage inmates from seeking medical help when needed. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he planned to delay a vote on the measure for at least six hours, forcing supporters to try to break his filibuster.

“On this bill, I’m confident that right will prevail and this bad bill will fail,” Chambers said.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue noted that the Department of Correctional Services has said it would not enact the policy if the law passed, because the administrative cost would equal or exceed the estimated $47,000 to $50,000 in copays the department would receive.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said he supported the measure because it would send a message to inmates.

“Medicine isn’t free,” Groene said. “Somebody’s paying for it, and (inmates) need to pay a part of it.”

At least 38 states and the federal government allow copayment charges for inmates, according to a report last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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