FAMM and Pennsylvania Prison Society urge Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections to end $5 medical copays for incarcerated people

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FAMM and Pennsylvania Prison Society urge Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections to end $5 medical copays for incarcerated people

 MECHANICSBURG – FAMM and the Pennsylvania Prison Society sent a joint letter today to Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections George Little asking for the permanent elimination of the $5 medical copay for incarcerated people in state prisons.

 “With prison wages starting at 19 cents an hour, and 90 percent of incarcerated people below the federal poverty line, a $5 copay is often an insurmountable burden, leaving them to rely on their family or friends for help,” said Maria Goellner, FAMM’s Pennsylvania State Director. “Medical copays have always compromised the health of incarcerated people, even when there wasn’t a pandemic. If you can’t afford the copay, you don’t seek medical care, and then more serious health issues develop. This harms real people, their families, and all Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic these copays were suspended on a temporary basis so that incarcerated people could have easier access to healthcare and prevent the spread of illness. The copay has been reinstated, even though the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare advises against charging incarcerated people for health services precisely because it obstructs access to healthcare. This recommendation is based on 40 years of intensive evaluation of health care systems.

“Incarcerated people already pay for phone calls, toiletries, extra clothes and blankets, and supplemental food from the commissary while making next to nothing,” says Claire Shubik-Richards, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “Imagine getting sick, maybe even having COVID-19, but being unable to afford to seek treatment as your symptoms worsen. In the meantime, you’re potentially infecting other incarcerated individuals, prison staff and their families. There is no reason for this, especially since the money accumulated from the copays have a minimal impact on the bottom line.”

The letter, which includes testimonials from incarcerated people and families about how problematic the copays are, also points out that the cost of Medicaid copays for non-incarcerated people is far less than the copay charged to incarcerated people. Medicaid copays in Pennsylvania primarily range from $1.00 to $3.00.


FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safely reduce incarceration, save taxpayer dollars, and keep families together. Founded in 1991, FAMM has secured bold sentencing and prison reform across the country while elevating the voices of directly impacted individuals and families.

Since 1787, the Pennsylvania Prison Society has served as Pennsylvania’s prison monitor and ombudsman, working to ensure more humane prison and jail conditions and to advocate for a sensible, restorative approach to criminal justice. In the age of mass incarceration, this mission is more relevant than ever.