published Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Marion County leaders OK prisoner fee to see doctor

Ryan Lewis/Correspondent
  • photo
    John Graham stands in front of the Marion County Courthouse in this file photo.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Poll
Should inmates have to pay for health care?
  • Yes. 79%
  • No. 21%

457 total votes.

JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County commissioners want to stop any abuse by inmates of the free medical care they can get at the county jail.

The board has voted unanimously to require a $20 copayment for each visit to the jail physician.

Commission Chairman Les Price said last week that the idea was something the board has been considering as officials looked more closely at the jail's medical expenses when hiring its new medical director.

The county paid more than $54,000 in medical expenses at the facility during the last fiscal year, Marion County Mayor John Graham said.

Rusty Adcock, who was awarded the contract as the jail's medical director last week, said the fee is a way to keep inmates from abusing medical care.

"Tennessee Code Annotated says that you can charge inmates a fee for doctor visits if there is money in their commissary [account]," he said. "The money that they will pay would go back to the county to pay for supplies and anything else that you need."

"This should cut down on a lot of the medicine we're having to buy, too," Price said.

Commissioner Don Adkins, who is the board's finance committee chairman, said the inmates should be treated just like everybody else.

"We're all going to a physician ourselves, and we're paying $15 to $20 copays," he said. "It's something that's getting abused [at the county jail], and it's become just a chance to get out of the cell."

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said no inmates will be denied medical care.

"If [inmates] don't have the money for the copay, we still have to treat them," he said. "We may recoup some money out of this. I think $20 per visit is fair. They have a commissary at the jail. They have money on the books, and we can get paid [for the doctor visits]."

Officials said the fee should help cut down on unnecessary doctor visits.

"If [inmates] can afford to buy honey buns, they can afford to pay their co-pay," Commissioner Gene Hargis said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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