A similar measure died last year when then-Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it, but proponents hope Gov. J.B. Pritzker will sign House Bill 2045, which eliminates prisoner copays for medical care.
The bill was sent to the governor June 28.
Prisoners in Illinois who want to see a doctor must fill out a request and say, in writing, what is wrong and why they think they need care. Their requests are reviewed by nurses who decide which cases merit a medical visit and which, for example, can be remedied with medication.
Every request is charged a $5 copay, regardless if an inmate sees a doctor or not.
“We get bitter complaints that someone had to go to sick call three times and pay $15 before they got to see the doctor who said, ‘Yeah, there’s something wrong with you,” American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois Senior Staff Attorney Camille Bennett said.
Most prisoners are indigent, Bennett said, and have no other source of income besides what they can get in prison, which can be as little as 9 cents an hour or $10 a month for those unable to work. Out of that, prisoners must shop in the commissary for hygiene items, clothing such as underwear and other needs. That, she said, makes the $5 copay an unfair burden on prisoners.
“You’re forcing people to make hard choices that you don’t necessarily want them to make,” she said. “Do you really want somebody for $6 to decide between new underwear and going to sick call? I mean, do you want somebody to say, ‘Oh, I have a nasty rash on my arm but I really don’t want to go another week without (something I need)? So I’m going to the commissary instead.’”
Bennett said the state has not just a moral, but a legal obligation to provide adequate medical care for its prisoners. A 2018 study found that a third of prisoner deaths in the state could have been prevented with adequate medical care.