Taxpayers are paying for inmates medical bills

Tuesday, January 8th 2008, 12:07 am
By: News 9

The Sheriff's department believed an inmate should pick up the tab for pre-exisiting conditions like heart problems or liver problems. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has now ruled counties too are responsible for making sure those bills are paid.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted the law as the inmate and the county responsilbe for medical bills.

"The majority of people that get booked into this facility dont have the means to pay for that medical care," Said Sherriff John Wetsel.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit where OU Medical Center sued the Sheriff and the County Board of Commissioners for more than three years of of unpaid bills on inmates with pre-existing conditions. Now the bill to the county, likely more than the original amount in the lawsuit.

"The county is looking at between $2.5 - $3 million," said District 3 County Commissioner Ray Vaughn. "

This money will need to come from the county coffers. Vaughn says there are several options to get that money, some that could affect your pocketbook.

"If needed the county can actaully raise taxes without a vote of the people," Vaughn said.

Commissioner Vaughn believes a legislative change is needed that would take the burden off taxpayers, pay the hospitals and get rid of a bad public policy.

"An anomoly in public policy that says if you want to free medical care, commit a crime," Vaughn said.

And Senator Owen Laughlin from the Woodward area plans to introduce a bill that would make inmates responsible for medical bills for pre-existing conditions.