The House today gave early approval to a bill that would require Texas prisoners to pay $100 a year for health care.

Current law requires inmates to make a copayment of $3 per doctor visit. HB 26, by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, seeks to offset some of the prison health care costs that taxpayers now absorb by requiring inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice  to pay an annual fee of $100 if they use prison medical services.

For inmates who are unable to pay the fee, 50 percent of money deposited into their trust fund would be removed until the fee is covered. For indigent inmates, those with $5 or less in their trust fund, no money would be taken out.

Now, taxpayers pay for a large portion of inmate health care, Madden said. Lawmakers budgeted $900 million for prisoner health care during the current biennium, but actual costs were $50 million to $70 million higher, he said.

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State budget writers estimate the annual fee would raise more than $9.9 million in the 2012-13 biennium. TDCJ would oversee the allocation of those funds.

Under the bill, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston would also develop and implement a program to train others to administer over-the-counter medications to the inmates.

Allen Hightower, director of the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee, which oversees prison health care, said the issue of who should dispense those pills has been a matter of contention because of the cost of having a doctor administer simple medications.

Madden said training nurses to administer simple medications would be a big savings.

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