WIVB.COM: Lawmakers want inmates to have co-pay

Mark Grisanti

May 02, 2013

Thanks to taxpayers, inmates receive free health care. But proposed legislation could change that and force prisoners to pay up.

The issue came to the forefront in WNY last year, when Frank Morrocco says he got arrested on purpose in the hopes of returning to prison for free health care. As an inmate, Morrocco was receiving cancer treatment and he said once he was released, he could not afford it.

"Actually I didn't want to go back to prison, but did I want to die out here? Absolutely not," Morrocco said.

Each year Erie County taxpayers spend about $10 million for inmates' medical expenses. New York State says each year, one inmate can cost taxpayers over $5,600 in medical costs.

State Republican Senators Mark Grisanti and George Maziarz want to change that and are co-sponsoring a bill with downstate lawmakers that would force inmates to contribute a $7 co-payment for all medical expenses except psychiatric treatment.

However, inmates would not be denied treatment if they didn't have the money.

"This will discourage inmates from abusing the system," Sen. Maziarz explained. "In the real world today, people who access health care pay co-pays. Inmates should be no different."

Four other states including Pennsylvania have successfully implemented these changes. In some cases, sick call visits have dropped by 76 percent.

Former inmate Charles Braswell, who went to prison over drugs, knows people abuse the system.

"I know some of them who went in there, didn't have any teeth, and they come home and they got a full set of teeth," Braswell said. "And it's like, how did you do that?"

But Braswell still thinks the proposed legislation isn't fair for people who don't abuse the system.

"I also think its unfair for other inmates who don't have it to spare to pay for it," he said.

Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard says sometimes inmates go to a nurse because they just want attention from a woman, all at the expense of taxpayers.

"The purpose of a co-payment was to discourage people from making frivolous medical visits," Sheriff Howard said. "We all say crime doesn't pay. Well in New York, it does."