Bill Introduced to End $5 Co-Pay That California Inmates Pay for Self-Initiated Medical Visits

Dentist Opanin Gyaami treats inmate Larry Butler in 2012, at a medical facility in Vacaville. (Credit: David Butow / for the Times)

Dentist Opanin Gyaami treats inmate Larry Butler in 2012, at a medical facility in Vacaville. (Credit: David Butow / for the Times)

San Quentin State Prison inmate Andre Erick Watson was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2007. His vocal cords feel weak, he said, his saliva glands hurt and he keeps losing teeth.

In May, the 73-year-old signed up to have a new pair of dentures made — his third set — and it left him with a $255 bill on top of a $5 co-payment for his visit to the medical care unit. With a prison plumbing job where he earns 18 cents an hour, Watson said it will take months to pay off the expenses.

“I still have no teeth and no money,” he said in a phone call this month, as he waits for his new dentures to get made. “It is very hard if you don’t have outside support.”

Thousands of California inmates like Watson struggle to cover their healthcare costs in prison every year, and Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) says the state should ease some of the burden. He has introduced a bill that would prevent the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from charging a co-pay for self-initiated medical and dental visits that has some inmates choosing between buying soap or visiting the doctor.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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