October 17, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC-- Federal prison inmates who have money will have to pay part of the cost of their doctor visits under legislation signed by President Clinton, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, 38 states already require such payments for state prisoners, said Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, who sponsored the legislation with Sen. Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona.

Under the law, inmates in federal prison cannot be refused treatment if they don't have any money. But those who can afford it must be charged at least $1 for most doctor visits. The fee will go mostly to pay restitution to crime victims.

The fee is unfair to poor prisoners and will discourage some from seeking medical care, said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, which presses for better prison conditions.

"If you're talking about people who make 25 cents a day, that is a lot," she said. "They'll have to choose between going to a doctor or paying for toothpaste or shampoo. You're trying to take blood from a stone."

The ACLU's National Prison Project has fought in numerous lawsuits for health care for prisoners who have been denied even the most basic medical treatment. In some cases, even patients with HIV and AIDS have been unable to obtain treatment and medication that they desperately need.

Johnson said the law will cut down on "frivolous" health care.

Amendments were added to the legislation that exempt preventive care, prenatal care, substance abuse, mental health, emergency services and contagious diseases from the co-payment requirements.

"I am glad there are those provisions," Gotsch, of the ACLU, said.

The bill received little opposition in Congress. Clinton signed it last week.


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