California Ends Medical and Dental Copays in Prison

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California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB 45, which permanently bans California state prisons and county jails from charging incarcerated people copayments for medical and dental visits and from charging for medically necessary equipment like artificial limbs, dentures, and hearing aids. The law will go into effect on January 1, 2020.

“Our prison system is based off of exploitation of labor, and these incarcerated individuals make pennies on the hour. An incarcerated individual will have to work over 60 hours while making 8 cents an hour to be able to afford a medical visit,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone (District 29), who sponsored the bill. “AB 45 will remove this barrier and ensure that incarcerated individuals receive the care that they deserve.” 

Incarcerated people enter prison with disproportionately high rates of poverty, substance abuse issues, and mental illness relative to the non-incarcerated population, Stone said. While they are in prison, he added, the state has an obligation to provide health services. The price of a copayment forces these individuals to decide if they want to spend their scarce money on medical care, basic hygiene supplies, or staying in touch with loved ones, Stone said. 

This barrier to care can have serious consequences including the exacerbation of minor conditions until they are serious or chronic and the spread of infectious diseases, Stone said. California in particular has a higher average suicide rate in its jails and prisons than the rest of the country, Stone said, and should be making it easier for incarcerated people to access care. 

“Without this important advocacy, it would have taken 10 months for me to pay off the $255 bill for my dentures,” said Juan Moreno Haines, a journalist and advisor to the cosponsoring organizations who has been incarcerated for 23 years and currently is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. 

“I don’t have family support. All I have is my prison job. I am hopeful that the Legislature and sheriffs will follow [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s] lead and abolish copayments and stop charging for things like dentures in jails too,” Moreno Haines said.

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