Behind Bars, Co-Pays Are a Barrier to Basic Health Care

By Victoria Law: For More Info, Go Here…

When Taylor Lytle began fainting every morning when she stood up, she had to make a decision: Should she seek medical care or should she save her hard-earned wages to buy soap, shampoo, deodorant and feminine hygiene products?

People across the United States struggle with similar concerns. But Lytle shouldn’t have had to make that decision. That’s because in a country without universal or even a nationalized health care system, one group of people has a constitutionally guaranteed right to medical care — people behind bars. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Estelle v. Gamble, that jails and prisons have a constitutional obligation to provide health care to those in custody. Failing to do so could be considered deliberate indifference, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Incarcerated people do not have access to jobs that pay minimum wage, meaning that they are dependent upon jails and prisons to provide for their basic needs, including health care needs.

That doesn’t mean that jails and prisons haven’t put up other barriers to essential care. In 41 states, if a person in prison wants medical care, they need to cough up a co-pay. These co-pays – which typically range from $3 to $5, but can be as high as $8 per visit typically range from $3 to $5, but can be as high as $7.50 per visit — may not seem like an exorbitant expense, especially when compared to co-pays in the outside world. However, for people behind bars, even those few dollars may put basic care out of reach. Prison jobs pay pennies per hour, meaning that even a $3 co-pay might mean working anywhere between 12 to 23 hours to be able to pay that amount. In California, where Lytle was incarcerated, she was paid 8 cents an hour to work in the prison kitchen. The prison’s medical co-pay was $5.

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