Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do Prisoner's Deserve Free Medical Treatment?

by Diane Dimond

They are charged with breaking laws or victimizing fellow citizens. We respond by making sure they get a lawyer – often on the taxpayer’s dime. If they plead “not guilty” we stage expensive trials for them so they can provide evidence to a judge or jury. If convicted, they are imprisoned.

So, after all that do we have an obligation to provide prisoners with any and all medicines they might need to keep them healthy?

While so many Americans are struggling to meet health insurance and prescription costs – services for prisoners constantly increase. And make no mistake about it, America has so many incarcerated people we are spending boat-loads of money on convicts’ medical care. Their services cannot be cut. But health care programs for the general public have been cut back time and time again.

Let’s take the state of Ohio as a general example of what it means to maintain the health of convicts. The Ohio prison system has about 51,000 prisoners and it spends nearly 223 million dollars a year for their medical care. About 28 million dollars of the Ohio total is spent on inmate’s prescriptions.

In Oregon, the latest annual figures show it took 100 million dollars to take care of some 14,000 prisoners. That’s 7 times more than the state spends on education.

Texas, like every other state, has seen a spike in the number of elderly inmates who often require even more expensive medical treatments. That phenomenon and Texas’ regular medical care costs for prisoners ballooned to a staggering 545 million dollars last fiscal year. This at a time when other crucial state programs are facing mandatory budget cuts.

Every year the price tag of tending to old and dying prisoners skyrockets. Realize these inmates must often be transported to hospitals or nursing homes where they are treated with the latest lifesaving methods and, yes, even though they are incapacitated from their illnesses the law says they must be provided with round-the-clock security guards.

Wrap your head around this set of facts if you can: In California, a state drowning in red ink, the prison system recently identified 21 inmates whose annual health care bill is just under two million dollars – EACH. There are another 1,300 guests of the California penal system who require medical attention costing $100,000.00 apiece. Those cold hard facts caused California to adopt a bill last year to grant medical paroles so the sickest inmates could get out of prison and into federally funded health care facilities. That, of course, only shifted the burden on paper – from the state to the federal level.

So, armed with these staggering statistics ask yourself: Do prisoners deserve all this free health care when so many of us struggle to pay for health insurance or, sadly, go without? The answer in a humane society is yes.

But yes to a point.

Are you sitting down as you read this? If not, please take a seat. In Massachusetts a cross-dressing inmate who murdered his wife in 1990 has been suing the state for health care costs related to his desire to have a sex change operation. Robert Kosilek (who has changed his name to Michelle) has already received hormone injections, electrolysis hair removal and, most recently, a mammogram – all at taxpayer’s expense. Kosilek remains housed in an all-male prison and her standard issue prison wardrobe has been augmented with several bras and “some make-up,” according to corrections officials. Still, after a costly ten year court battle, Kosilek says these steps have not been enough to ease her depression and the fight continues for the state to pay for a full-on sex reassignment surgery. The case is still pending in Massachusetts’ U.S. District Court.

Earlier this year in upstate New York, 55 year old Kenneth Pike, convicted of raping a 12 year old family member and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, desperately needed a heart transplant. He had already undergone triple heart-bypass surgery and had a pacemaker implanted while incarcerated. After the media reported the public might have to pay for an $800,000.00 transplant surgery for a convicted child predator, the outcry was immediate. The Department of Corrections explained it was, “Constitutionally obligated to provide health-care services to inmates” and Pike’s family argued he should be treated like any other patient in need. In the end, the controversy was so red-hot Kenneth Pike declined the surgery. At last report he is still alive.

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prisoners were entitled to the same medical and dental treatment as everyone else in their communities. Since then countless state courts have upheld that ruling and repeated that prisons that withhold treatment can be held liable for violating the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Well, I know lots of folks in my community who can’t afford to go to doctor when they feel sick and they may go to the dentist only when they have a raging toothache.

Whether our politicians want to admit it or not, health care has become a luxury for millions of Americans. Excluding, of course, those convicted of a crime.


Anonymous said...

It's easy to say that prisoners don't deserve free health care. But because of the incarceration we have effectively robbed them of any chance of providing for themselves - thus they are our responsibility. Not unlike a dog or a pet hamster. Morally we have no choice - leaving a sick prisoner to die without medical help would be torture.
However we should probably get better at separating actual illness from frivolous spending (here I'm of course referring to the example with the transsexual man who would probably have survived imprisonment without taxpayer financed treatment).

Anonymous said...

Twenty one with big bills is small compared to the total number in the prison population (LOTS - 100,000?), and/or the total number receiving some type of major medical care. Prison is not some kind of severe spa (credit: Robin Williams). Oftentimes people are severely injured in prison! Even in the best of times, with so many incarcerated, many, many do not receive adequate medical care even in good ol' California. What kind of copay can you honestly anticipate from someone, if they are eligible to work at all, who may be making $.20/hr? There are always abuses in the system, but the minority do not represent the majority.

A Voice of Sanity said...

The only real answer is universal health care - which is what the president is trying to move to.

That way Americans will pay less per person and everyone will get better care.

Anonymous said...

Not necessarily true Voice of Sanity.

The people who today have bad or no health care will get it a lot better of course. But those who already have good coverage today will experience a drop in quality because they suddenly have to pay for the other too. So either they have to pay more in order to get the same level of care or accept a reduction in service. It's simple logic really.

The presidents plan is noble but I think he's watched too many Michael Moore movies...

A Voice of Sanity said...

World’s Best Medical Care?

Quote: "Seven years ago, the World Health Organization made the first major effort to rank the health systems of 191 nations. France and Italy took the top two spots; the United States was a dismal 37th."

And quote: "We have known for years that America has a high infant mortality rate, so it is no surprise that we rank last among 23 nations by that yardstick. But the problem is much broader. We rank near the bottom in healthy life expectancy at age 60, and 15th among 19 countries in deaths from a wide range of illnesses that would not have been fatal if treated with timely and effective care."

Just one of many commentaries.

Anonymous said...

Those license plates aint gonna make themselves you know.

Anonymous said...

Inmates work don't they? They should pay for their health insurance just like the rest of us do. Jail is not a free ride, or shouldn't be...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:24, In Texas, inmates work but are not paid. How could they possibly afford to pay for healthcare?

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Judith A. Yates said...

I worked in the federal prison system, camp to max, female and male. This included the lock-down psych unit. My best friend was a nurse in the prison.
I have always insisted if the inmates were charged on a sliding scale for medical care, the complaints and the sense of entitlement would drop drastically.
I have no issue with inmates prescribed drugs for their mental health and stability; hey, I worked there too, and I wanted to go home at night, as did my friends and coworkers, without incident. We also had a man in the midst of sexual reassignment (male to female). I had no problem with her receiving medical benefits because, as a friend of several transgendered persons, it would not be right to just stop medical care, and I felt it was part of her mental heath care.
I DO have issues with inmates receiving free medical care when my own mother has to forego her care because of funds. Medical problems are the number one excuse for inmates to get "one over," get their way, or get something- a trip outside of prison, your own bed with a TV, or just to get out of work. Example: Staff would give an order to an inmate who would immediately start crying "heart pains." The world stops for them.
Let inmates pay for medical care on a sliding scale. Dip into that precious few dollars they make in prison jobs. The false reports and complaints would be cut and make staff jobs easier.