On February 26th, California’s Assembly Public Safety Committee voted to pass Assembly Bill 45, authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Santa Cruz). AB 45, which UAPD (Local AFSCME 206) has co-sponsored, would eliminate medical and dental co-payments and charges for health care appliances in prisons and jails. The passage comes on the heels of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) recent announcement that they will stop charging copayments for medical and dental services and appliances like dentures effective March 1, 2019.
Since 1995, California prisons have required a $5 medical copay from incarcerated people seeking medical or dental care. In most county jails, inmates must pay a copay of $3. California counties that do not collect medical co-payments from people in jail include Napa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Tulare. In 2017, the Prison Policy Initiative calculated that someone earning prison job minimum wage would have to work over 60 hours to afford one copay. For many prisoners, this is often a costly choice that can result in deadly consequences. In 2003, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified copays as one of the factors contributing to an MRSA outbreak among incarcerated people in California. Proponents of the bill also argue that medical co-pays exacerbate racial inequities within public health. Because Black and Brown people are disproportionately incarcerated, barriers to affordable healthcare created through copays intensify existing racial health disparities.
The UAPD, alongside the ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Initiate Justice are now looking to the California Legislature to eliminate these co-payments and medical equipment charges in county jails and to ensure that they can’t be reinstated in state prison.