(SACRAMENTO) — Senator George Runner’s (R-Antelope Valley) legislation to protect taxpayers’ dollars from excessive billing for inmate medical care was signed into law today by Governor Schwarzenegger. Senate Bill 159 will protect taxpayers from being billed for unsubstantiated costs for inmates’ or suspects’ health care by achieving an equitable balance between hospitals and law enforcement. “This new law provides a fair and balanced solution between hospitals and law enforcement. Unfortunately, taxpayers are ultimately on the hook, so it is important to have an equitable system in order to protect our tax dollars from being wasted,” said Runner. Senate Bill 159, sponsored by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, provides a framework to compel sheriffs and hospitals to negotiate local contracts for inmate health care, by stipulating a fair reimbursement rate if no contract is in place, prohibiting the most egregious examples by individual hospitals and sheriffs, and creating a collaborative effort between sheriffs and hospitals. Prior to this new law, if no contract is in place, a local sheriff is at the mercy of an individual hospital’s billing rates and practices. These rates vary widely across the state, and sheriffs report that some hospitals are unfairly charging far more than what is fair and reasonable. Additionally, current law does not prevent law enforcement from releasing an inmate from custody, thus allowing the inmate to seek medical care, then re-arresting the individual upon discharge from the hospital, thus absolving the sheriff’s financial obligation. SB 159 will fix these problems.
Runner continued, “The bottom line is we need to protect taxpayers’ hard earned money. There are services that we, as taxpayers, are mandated to pay by the courts and one of those services is inmate medical care. Because taxpayers have this court-mandated obligation, it is critical that there is a framework that is fair and equitable. Without it, there is no protection for taxpayers and SB 159 will provide this protection.”
SB 159 will go into effect on January 1, 2006.