Legislation to Eliminate Copays for People Incarcerated in California Prisons & Jails Passes First Committee

Press Contact: Daisy Vieyra, 916-824-3266; Ella Baker Center: Terence Long, 510-936-0344

Legislation to Eliminate Copays for People Incarcerated in California Prisons & Jails Passes First Committee

Sacramento, CA - Today, California’s Assembly Public Safety Committee voted to pass Assembly Bill 45, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz) to eliminate medical and dental copayments and charges for health care appliances in prisons and jails.  Today’s passage comes on the heels of last week's announcement by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) that effective March 1, 2019, they will stop charging copayments for medical and dental services and appliances like dentures.

“Copayments prevent incarcerated people from accessing critically needed healthcare,” said Assemblymember Stone. “Although, CDCR took the encouraging step of voluntarily eliminating copayments in state prisons last week, it is still essential that we keep AB 45 moving forward to set this change in statute and to eliminate this barrier to healthcare for the over 70,000 people incarcerated in California jails.”

Since 1995, California prisons have required a $5 medical copay from incarcerated people seeking medical or dental care. In most counties, people in jail must pay a copay of $3. California Counties that do not collect medical copayments from people in jail include Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Tulare.

“People in here refuse medical service because of copays,” said Juan Moreno Haines, an incarcerated journalist and winner of the Silver Heart Award from the Society of Professional Journalists who has been incarcerated for 23 years and currently resides at San Quentin State Prison. “Making a choice between buying deodorant and going to the doctor, that’s not a choice anyone should have to make, particularly people who are as predictably poor as the people in here. I hope the Legislature and Sheriffs will follow CDCR’s lead and abolish payments for medical visits.”

In 2017, the Prison Policy Initiative calculated that someone earning prison job minimum wage would have to work over 60 hours to afford one copay.

The ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Initiate Justice and Union of America Physicians and Dentists now look to the California Legislature to eliminate the copayments and medical equipment charges in county jails and to ensure that they can't be reinstated in state prison.

Proponents of the bill argue that medical co-pays exacerbate racial inequities in public health.  Because Black and Brown people disproportionately are incarcerated, barriers to affordable healthcare created through copays intensify existing racial health disparities. In 2003, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified copays as one of the factors contributing to a MRSA outbreak among incarcerated people in California.

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The ACLU of California is an enduring guardian of justice, fairness, equality, and freedom, working to protect and advance civil liberties for all Californians.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners is a grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC).

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights works to advance racial and economic justice to ensure dignity and opportunity for low income people and people of color.

Initiate Justice builds the power of people directly impacted by mass incarceration to be leaders in the movement to end it. Initiate Justice organizes both inside and outside of prisons, mobilizing incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their loved ones in California.

Union of American Physicians and Dentists - are a union of physicians, dentists, and health practitioners/professionals working together to ensure that our members have an effective voice in decisions that affect their well-being and their ability to provide quality healthcare.

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