In most states, people incarcerated in prisons and jails pay medical co-pays for physician visits, medications, dental treatment, and other health services. The fees are meant to partially reimburse states and counties for the high cost of medical care. Populations behind bars are among the most at-risk for chronic and infectious diseases. Fees are also meant to deter people from unnecessary doctor’s visits. Fees may be doing more harm than good by deterring sick people from getting the care they really do need, reports the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group for inmates. A $2 to $5 medical co-pay in prison or jail may not seem expensive on its face. They can be cost-prohibitive to inmates who typically earn 14 to 62 cents per hour.
In West Virginia, a single visit to the doctor would cost almost an entire month’s pay for an incarcerated person who makes $6 per month. In Michigan, it would take over a week to earn enough for a single $5 co-pay. Thirteen states charge a medical co-pay that is equivalent to charging minimum wage workers more than $200. Texas charges inmates a $100 yearly health services fee, which some officials are trying to double. Inmates usually must rely on deposits into their personal accounts, typically from family members, to pay medical fees. In most places, funds are automatically withdrawn from these accounts until the balance is paid, creating a debt that can follow them even after release.