Lincoln jail tries to recoup medical expenses from inmates

October 28, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Ill Inmates are slowly becoming a chronic disease to the bottom line of the Lincoln County Regional Jail. It is estimated that in the past 10 years former and current prisoners have amassed $100,000 in debt against the jail, comprised heavily of medical expenses.

But most of this figure has been compounded in the last year alone.

Statutes hold the jail responsible for the medical care of inmates, despite prisoners' financial capabilities. The system that funnels medical bills directly to the jail often leaves the facility in an uphill battle to recoup those charges from inmates. The current inmate care statutes create a frustrating system of unpaid claims, high hospital charges and little, if any, relief from the state, jail officials said.

"If we could collect everything that was owed to us, we'd be in fine shape," said Capt. John Curlis, jail administrative assistant.

Of the $26.51 per day the jail receives for each state inmate it houses, only $1.91 is allotted for medical costs.


"State inmates have a medical allowance, but it's nowhere near what their medical expenses actually are," said Curlis.

Jailer David Gooch said medical expenses are "hard to get back. Jailers are pawning those types of prisoners off on other jails, because [a jail is] a business."

The number of inmates able, or willing, to pay their bills and that require extensive medical treatment is stretching thin the jail's revenue. "I can't say it's getting better," Curlis said. "A lot of these people come to jail to get their medical," when they can't afford their prescriptions on the outside.

Going after inmates' money

In response to unpaid accounts, the jail now has several policies with which to recoup its losses. When an inmate is sent a money order, often used in the canteen for incidentals like cigarettes, the jail seizes half of the incoming money to put against the inmate's debt.

The money still owed will be registered in the jail database. Should that person be re-incarcerated, the amount owed will be noted on their file.

When money orders, subsequent arrests and mailed notices all fail, the jail may file a civil suit against the debtor. Even then it's not a perfect solution, said Gooch.

"Rather than each jailer reinventing the wheel, legislators need to consider a law setting the price for all health care providers with Medicaid, to provide services for a pre-determined rate," contrived from a formula setting a percentage paid for each charge, said Gooch.

In addition, the law needs to be updated to allow the jail's civil suit for debt collection to be combined with the current court case against the inmate, rather than the jail having to file a new, separate suit, said Gooch.

As the law stands, Fort Logan Hospital president Mike Jackson said the hospital is required to bill the jail and not the inmate directly.

"Our policy of billing for services provided to jail inmates is no different from the policy followed by any other hospital in the state," said Jackson.

"State law stipulates that a county government is responsible for medical care provided to its inmates while they are in custody ... The jail serves as each inmate's guardian during the time that they are in custody. As a result, the jail is financially responsible for the medical care provided to inmates."

Curlis doesn't expect an easy solution soon but sees no choice in doggedly collecting on the jail's growing debt.

"If we don't collect it, who's going to pay it? Taxpayers, that's who," Curlis added.

Central Kentucky News Articles