The Texas House has approved legislation meant to tamp down rising health care costs for the state's prisoners.Two points: First, the state doesn't "save" money under this plan, it just generates more revenue from taxing inmate families by seizing money from commissary accounts. Referring to a new tax as "savings" is downright Orwellian.
Passed by a vote of 124-14, the bill requires inmates who initiate a doctor's visit to pay a $100 annual fee, unless they are indigent. It also requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to house inmates with similar health conditions in the same units, so as to help reduce costs.
The measure additionally directs the department to provide some over-the-counter medications and at no cost to indigent inmates. It now heads to the Senate.
Opponents say the bill is too much of an increase from the current, $3 prisoner co-pay per doctor's visit. But a budget analysis predicts it will save Texas nearly $10 million over the next two years.
Second, in past Grits comment strings, medical professionals working at Texas prisons have questioned whether this policy will increase demand for services thanks to changed economic incentives. Presently, many younger, relatively healthy inmates use relatively few medical services. But if they think they're already paying for it, anyway, they may be more likely to ask to see a doctor or nurse for relatively minor complaints. Of course, the $100 doesn't come close to paying for the true cost of their medical services, but from the inmates' perspective, folks who previously paid nothing will now pay $100, and those who previously factored in the cost of a $3 copay now will think to themselves, "Well, I've already paid for the services, I may as well use them." Time will tell, but there's a real risk this move will boost overall medical costs significantly more than the $10 million raised from new taxes on inmate families.