AB 45: End $5 Co-Pay that has Inmates Choosing Between Buying Soap or Seeing a Doctor


Update: Because of this campaign, CDCR Secretary Diaz has agreed to implement the new rules on 3/1/2019!

Special thanks to Taina Vargas-Edmond and Initiate Justice for their Tireless Work.

Assembly Bill 45 would eliminate medical and dental co-payments for people inside of California prisons and jails.

Currently, people in California prisons are charged a $5 co-payment when they initiate medical or dental services. The average wage for people in prisons is just $0.08 an hour—meaning medical and dental visits can cost more than an entire week’s pay.

The high cost of healthcare in prisons discourages many people from seeking care until it is an emergency. This barrier to healthcare jeopardizes not just the health of the imprisoned, but also the health of prison staff and the public, as sick people who avoid doctors are more likely to suffer from more severe illness and increased infection rates.

AB 45 was introduced by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) and is endorsed by Initiate Justice, ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Unite the People, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Photo: David Butow

Photo: David Butow


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 2018, the 73-year-old signed up to have a new pair of dentures made, 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 to the LA Times reporter Jazmine Ulloa 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 (CDCR) from charging a co-pay for medical and dental visits that has many inmates choosing between buying soap or visiting the doctor.

How You Can Help

AB 45 is currently in the Public Safety Committee. Each member of the committee needs to get a phone call from YOU! It’s really easy to do. Most likely, an intern or staffer will answer the phone, and the whole call should take no more than 30 seconds. You may even get a voicemail—it’s OK to leave a message!

Here are the committee members and their phone numbers. If you're on mobile, just tap the number to call:

Sample script:

“Hi, my name is _____________, I’m a California resident and I would like the committee member to bring AB 45 to a vote and then vote yes. Prison reform is very important to me. ”

They may record your zip code during the call, and a couple may ask why you support the issues. Keep this email open so you can quickly read the overview if it comes up... but it probably won't! These calls are usually very fast and always easy to do.

Update: Thanks to the work of our volunteers and great sponsoring organizations like Initiate Justice, CDCR has agreed to implement the new rules:

Press Release—California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) will abolish inmate copayment charges for medical and dental services and charges for dental prosthetic appliances effective March 1, 2019. Copayment fees are not charged for mental health services.

After recent internal analysis, it was determined that copayments have minimal fiscal benefit and are not aligned with patient care. Specifically, copayments may hinder patients from seeking care for health issues which, without early detection and intervention, may become exacerbated, resulting in decreased treatment efficacy and/or increased treatment cost. The Department’s health care delivery system, known as the Complete Care Model, is based on a preventative and comprehensive approach to patient care. Early detection and preventative health care aligns with most public and private health care organizations and can prove to be fiscally prudent.

Judson Parker