Article published June 6, 2000
Ruling frees cities from inmates' health billsJACK JONES, Associated Press
Local governments are under no obligation to pay for health care for people being held in jail awaiting trial, the state Supreme court has ruled.
There is no law requiring such payment, the justices said Monday in rejecting a lawsuit filed in 1995 by the grand Strand Regional Medical Center against the city of Myrtle Beach.
The hospital had sued the cityk seeking the repayment of about $300,000 for the treatment of jail inmates awaiting trial.
“We’re certainly pleased that the Supreme Court ruled in our favor,” Myrtle Beach City manager Tom Leath said.
City officials are willing to pay for health problems that occur as the result of an arrest or while a person is in custody, but not for pre-existing conditions, Leath said.
“For things that we really didn’t have anything to do with, it just didn’t make any sense for taxpayers to have to pay that bill,” he said.
“We will not be commenting,” said Joan Carroza, marketing director for the hospital.
A spokeswoman for the South Carolina Health Alliance, which represents the state’s hospitals, referred questions to the association’s lawyer, who did not immediately return a phone call.
Spartanburg county jail Director Larry Powers said the Supreme Court ruling won’t make much of a difference locally.&8221;
“It’s not going to have a dramatic impact on the way we do business here at the jail,” he said.
For the past several years, the local jail has had an agreement with Spartanburg Regional Medical Center as to who pays what for inmate health costs.
The jail pays the hospital for lab, X-ray and pharmacy fees, plus the cost of sending inmates to specialists.
For physician fees and inpatient, outpatient and emergency room fees, the hospital either absorbs the cost or seeks reimbursement through Medicaid or other means.
Medical costs represent a relatively small part of the jail’s overall budget.
The jail’s budget for the current fiscal year is $7.4 million.
To date, the jail has spent nearly $209,995 on medical costs. these medical expenses include hospital fees as well as other costs such as the jail’s pharmacy and medical equipment supplies, dental and eye care and lab fees.
SRMC spokeswoman Betsy McMillan said the hospital expects to provide between $700,000 and $900,000 in inmate medical care this year.
The hospital’s total budget is $500 million.
The decision deals only with those being held in jail while awaiting trial.
State government and local governments have long been responsible for the health care bills of people serving a sentence after a conviction.
Grand Strand Regional said it billed the city only after it was unable to collect from the inmates or their insurance companies.
Whether local governments should pay for care for those awaiting trial is a decision best left to the General Assembly, Justice Costa Pleicones wrote. there is no law requiring such payment now.
State and federal laws require hospitals to treat emergency care patients, regardless of a person’s ability to pay.