Inmate Loses Challenge to Medical Co-Payment

     CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois may charge inmates a small co-payment before providing dental care without violating the U.S. Constitution, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Peter Poole, an inmate at Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Illinois, brought the challenge after trying to schedule a tooth extraction and two fillings for his “serious dental problems.”
     He balked because Big Muddy had asked to authorize a $2 co-payment withdrawal from his inmate trust account, but administrators denied his grievance.
     After holding out for over a year, Poole finally paid the fee and underwent the procedure. He then sued the prison and its administrators.
     “Poole’s complaint frivolously accuses the defendants of ‘committing strong arm robbery’ against a ‘captive market of inmates,'” Judge Diane Wood summarized in her opinion for the 7th Circuit.
     The trial court had dismissed most defendants, but let Poole pursue claims against prison healthcare administrator Debbie Isaacs.
     When the court learned Poole had lied that he “didn’t have any money” for the co-payment, since there was more than enough money in his trust account, it granted summary judgment to Isaacs.
     U.S. District Judge Patrick Murphy also reasoned that the co-payments were not unconstitutional and that qualified immunity nevertheless protected prison officials because the law was not clearly established.
     The 7th Circuit agreed, joining the 3rd and 9th Circuits.
     “We join our fellow courts in holding that the imposition of a modest fee for medical services, standing alone, does not violate the Constitution,” Wood wrote for the three-judge panel. “To the extent that Poole is arguing for some form of per se unconstitutionality, we reject his position.”
     Moreover, the department of corrections charges the co-payment only to inmates with enough money in their accounts to pay, ensuring that the truly indigent are not denied access to medical services.
     The judges also rejected Poole’s claims that the prison exposed him to unnecessary pain and suffering.
     “Poole had sufficient funds in his trust fund account but opted to refuse treatment rather than part with his money,” Wood wrote. “Even though he was in pain until he received treatment, the delay in receiving care was of his own making.”

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