Lee County to review medical costs for inmates

Ombudsman report indicates administrative rules never updated.


LEE COUNTY – The Lee County jail is among multiple jails across the state reassessing how they charge inmates for medical fees, after a report from the Iowa Ombudsman’s office was released Friday.
Adherance to a new Iowa code that was implemented almost 17 years ago is undergoing an investigation by the ombudsman’s office after officials there fielded complaints out of several counties including Scott and Wapello, of improper charges to inmates that haven’t been convicted.
According to the report, Iowa’s county jails are allowed to recover expenses from certain inmates who receive medical care during their incarceration. Restrictions are built into the law that allow jails to charge for medical expenses if the inmate is at least 18 years of age and has been convicted of a criminal offense or sentenced for contempt of court for violating a domestic abuse order.
State Ombudsman Bernardo Granwehr’s report says practices among county jails have been inconsistent across the state. In 2016 a letter was sent out by the Iowa State Association of Counties at the request of the ombudsman to address the issue, but the state did not send out a public report at that point.
Granwehr is now asking that all of Iowa’s county jails standardize practices of billing inmates for medical costs.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber said the county, along with other county jails in the state, is reviewing policies in light of the ombudsman’s report.
“I have reviewed the report and understand its conclusions. We are taking steps now to make policy changes to align with the report’s recommendations and considering other action items that may be necessary,” he said Monday.
The law that governs seeking reimbursement for medical costs in county jails is under section 356.7(1) of the Iowa Code.
The code also states the district court approves the claims for expenses at which point the sheriff may enforce it.
The state appears to have conflicting enforcement where the Iowa Administrative Code puts the obligation for medical expenses on the inmate, and the ombudsman report concurs with the IAC statement. However, Granwehr said his office has been telling jails since 2016 that they shouldn’t rely solely on the administrative rule as it is subservient to the Iowa code. He said the administrative rules were “unfortunately” never updated to conform with the change.

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