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Congress OKs Prisoner-Doctor Bill

September 29, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal prisoners who can afford it would be forced to pay for visits to jailhouse doctors, with most of the money going to crime victims, under a bill headed to President Clinton.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously late Thursday without debate. The House approved it Sept. 19.

``The free health care currently enjoyed by federal prisoners is an offense to every law-abiding, hard-working American taxpayer who struggles to make ends meet,″ said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., during the House debate. ``It is time to end the free ride for federal prisoners by requiring them to contribute to the costs of their own care.″

Under the bill, inmates in federal prison cannot be refused treatment because they cannot pay the fee. But those who can afford to pay must be charged at least $1 for most doctor visits, lawmakers said.

That fee will mostly go to pay restitution to crime victims, lawmakers said.

The bill will also help ensure prisoners do not abuse their free health system, lawmakers said.

The Bureau of Prisons has told Congress ``it believes some inmates often sign up for sick call as a way of getting out of other responsibilities,″ said Rep. Edward Pease, R-Ind. ``This fee will also help deter inmates from abusing the system in that manner.″

The fee cannot be assessed for Bureau of Prison-required health care or for treatment of chronic infectious diseases, mental health care, or substance abuse treatment, officials said.

Not everyone was happy with the bill.

``Discouraging prisoners from getting necessary health care services by charging a co-pay violates the government’s constitutional obligation to provide such services,″ said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.


On the Net:

The bill number is S.704. For bill text: http://thomas.loc.gov

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