Marion County adds fee for prison inmates' prescription medicine

Marion County adds fee for prison inmates' prescription medicine

April 2nd, 2012 Ryan Lewis/Correspondent in News

Kimball City Attorney and Marion County Attorney Billy Gouger

Photo by Ryan Lewis

JASPER, Tenn. -- After deciding to make county prisoners cough up a $20 copay for doctor's visits, Marion County commissioners have added a $15 fee for inmates' prescription medicine.

Last month, board members said they wanted to stop prisoners from abusing the free medical care at the county jail.

"It's something that's getting abused, and it's become just a chance to get out of the cell," Commissioner Don Atkins said in February.

Last week, commissioners voted unanimously to require prisoners to pay a $15 fee for each prescription he or she is written.

Marion County Attorney Billy Gouger said state statute has a copay provision for inmates' prescriptions, but the board didn't address that issue in February.

"Looking at what other counties do, I found a low amount of $1.50 for each prescription and all the way up to $15 for each prescription," he said. "The money comes out of their commissary account [if they have any in it]."

Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said a $15 co-pay for medicine is "a good price."

He said the money in the prisoners' commissary accounts is normally used to purchase candy, drinks, paper and "things like that."

Commissioner Gene Hargis, who made the motion to require the new prescription fee, said he thought a $15 co-pay "would be about median."

The county also could file claims with insurors if prisoners have medical coverage, Gouger said.

Marion County Commission Chairman Les Price said the new fee requirements are predicated on the inmates' ability to pay.

"They cannot be denied their medicine or a doctor's visit if they can't pay," Gouger said.

Contact correspondent Ryan Lewis at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.