Oregon sheriffs ask relief with inmate health care

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon sheriffs are looking to the Legislature for relief from some of the cost of caring for inmates in the county jail.

As it stands today, people who get arrested and go to jail lose their health insurance benefits, and counties pick up the cost of care.

Sheriffs in many counties, especially in timber country, are struggling to keep deputies on patrol and say that one inmate with serious health problems can ruin a law enforcement budget, the Salem Statesman Journal (http://stjr.nl/MoLdff) reported.

"What kills us is when we get the $100,000, $200,000, $300,000 inmate," said Darrell Fuller, lobbyist for the Oregon State Sheriffs Association.

The sheriffs cite examples such as an inmate awaiting trial on a murder charge in Wasco County who had surgery for a brain tumor and then died of a heart attack. The bill: $300,000.

The Legislature has a bill to require private insurance carriers to continue paying for policyholders' care while they're in jail before trial, meaning they've been charged but not convicted. It's passed a House committee and now is in the joint budget committee.

Representatives of the health insurance industry argue that the government has a legal duty to care for people in its custody.

"It's my understanding that providing health care is a requirement in the Constitution for inmates," Health Net's Lisa Trussell said at a committee hearing.

Democratic Rep. Mitch Greenlick of Portland said dropping benefits for inmates who haven't stood trial amounts to discriminating against them on the basis that they can't make bail.

Sheriff Jason Myers said Marion County spends more than $2 million on inmate health care annually, 13 percent to 15 percent of the jail budget, with costs rising quickly.

"My budget isn't increasing. It's staying flat," he said. "As those costs go up, we have to look at other services like jail beds or patrol."

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Information from: Statesman Journal

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