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dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.38; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;">Medical copays for Illinois prison inmates will remain in place after the legislature failed to override a veto of a bill that would have cut them.
Inmates now pay $5 for medical and dental visits, but prison reform advocates say that's unfair. Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, said that amount is huge for a prison population that is largely poor.
"The $5 is actually a pretty big amount of money for them and it's a hardship to come up with, and what it means is that they can't spend that money on other things that really are necessities," she said. Error[/audio]Prison jobs pay pennies on the dollar so that $5 copay translates to a large portion of an inmate's income, Vollen-Katz said.
"That money's used to buy soap, it's used to buy basic hygiene items, sometimes toilet paper – things that should be supplied by the Illinois Department of Corrections, but frankly often are not," she said. "When you put that up against having to pay for medical care, oftentimes people will put off getting medical care because it might mean they can't send letters home to their family that month.”
The result, she said, is that inmates often delay seeking medical treatment and wind up needing more expensive emergency care once a condition worsens.
The Illinois Department of Corrections said cutting the copays would cost the department nearly $6 million per year.
Vollen-Katz disputed that figure and said IDOC data show copays generate less than a half million dollars per year: "Of that $400,000 a year, truthfully, very little of it is revenue if any, because it costs money to administer the copay program."
Reform advocates say they will try again next year to lobby for legislation cutting the copays.