On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County.
Approved for Publication April 29, 1997.
Before Judges King, Keefe and Conley. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: King
The opinion of the court was delivered by
This is an appeal from a denial of injunctive relief and grant of summary judgment in the State's favor in a prisoner's action challenging the New Jersey medical copayment statute. We reject appellant's constitutional challenge to the statutory scheme and affirm primarily for the reasons given by Judge Carchman in his oral opinion of May 20, 1996.
On November 1, 1995 the Legislature enacted L. 1995, c. 254, the prison inmate copayment statute (statute) codified as N.J.S.A. 30:7E-1 to -6, effective March 1, 1996, to partially defray the cost of inmates' health care and to reduce the incidence of overutilization and malingering among inmates in state and county correctional facilities.
N.J.S.A. 30:7E-2 provides in pertinent part:
a. An inmate shall be liable for the cost of, and be charged a nominal fee for, any medical care, surgery, dental care, hospitalization or treatment provided to the inmate during the inmate's term of incarceration or detention by the State or a county. . . .
b. An inmate may be charged either the full cost of or a nominal fee for any prescription or nonprescription drug or medicine provided to the inmate during the inmate's term of incarceration or detention by the State or a county.
The statute provides that the State Treasurer will determine the amount of the "nominal fees" in accordance with guidelines promulgated by the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections (Commissioner) for inmates incarcerated or detained in a State correctional facility or a State-contracted half-way house, and by the county treasurer in accordance with guidelines promulgated by the county adjuster for inmates incarcerated or detained in a county jail. N.J.S.A. 30:7E-2(a), (b). N.J.S.A. 30:7E-4 allows the State or county to place a lien "on any and all property and income to which the person shall have or may acquire an interest," for fees charged to cover the cost of "any medical care, dental care, surgery, hospitalization or treatment provided by the State or the county," as well as "for the cost or any fee charged for the cost of any prescription or nonprescription drug or medicine."
N.J.S.A. 30:7E-5 guarantees inmates unable to make copayments access to medical care; it states:
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 2, 3 and 4 of this act, no inmate shall be denied medical care, surgery, dental care, hospitalization, treatment or prescription or nonprescription drugs or medicine because he is not covered under a health insurance plan or because the inmate is unable to reimburse the State or county for the costs of those services, drugs or medicine.
N.J.S.A. 30:7E-6 directs the Commissioner to promulgate regulations under the inmate copayment statute.
Pursuant to this directive, the Department of Corrections (DOC) circular HS-96-01 (DOC copayment system), established the "DOC policy for inmate copayment of eligible health and dental care treatment, while ensuring that all inmates will be provided the opportunity to receive necessary health care services regardless of their ability to pay." The copayment system requires the DOC to properly orient and notify both inmates and staff of the copayment system's details. When seeking medical attention, the DOC copayment system requires inmates to complete a medical request form (HS-01), which "informs the inmate that there may be a charge for services and that any charge assessed may be grieved." The medical department will then "complete a daily medical log HS-02 indicating all inmates seen for the day and whether or not the services received are chargeable and the chargeable amount." "In the event of emergency services the staff must initiate form HS-01 to document medical services received and the chargeable amount." The health care staff will also document on the medical request form the appropriate charge at the time a prescription is written. "Once the prescription is written and acknowledged, the account will be charged $1.00."
The copayment system imposes a $5 copayment on inmates for each inmate initiated visit for medical, dental, emergency and optometry services. Services excluded from the copayment requirement are:
Initial assessments [physical examinations] during the reception and classification process, classification physical and transfer evaluations, discharge physical examinations.
Prescribed laboratory work to include inmate requests for HIV testing.
Immunizations, Tuberculosis (TB) testing, Hepatitis B vaccine, and other treatments instituted by NJDOC for public health reasons.
Prescribed psychiatric, psychological, substance abuse and social work services.
EKG's, dressing changes and other ongoing treatments ordered by health care staff. If treatment is prescribed over the course of several days or weeks, the ...