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Wisconsin prisons quietly ended suspension of copays for COVID-19 symptoms

Medical care benefit for incarcerated people was limited to 2 years, state Department of Corrections spokesperson clarifies

Segdrick Farley looks down at a printed photo of his brother, Alvin L. Simmons
Segdrick Farley holds a photo of his brother, Alvin L. Simmons, who died in March 2021 of a COVID-19-related illness while incarcerated. Angela Major/WPR

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is no longer suspending medical copays for incarcerated people suffering from COVID-19 or other respiratory symptoms, eliminating a benefit adopted after the onset of the pandemic.

Many states modified or suspended copays as COVID-19 spread rampant in jails and prisons, removing a barrier to reporting illnesses and seeking care. Wisconsin’s copay for medical care is $7.50, which a 2017 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative found to be one of the highest in the country.

In June 2022, a WPR report based on interviews with a half dozen formerly incarcerated people outlined the challenges of affording $7.50 copays on prison wages that might pay nickels or dimes per hour. Some people had to choose between seeking medical care or paying other expenses, such as toiletries, phone calls or legal documents.

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Wisconsin’s suspension of medical copays for COVID-19 started in 2020. In May 2022, a state Department of Corrections official told WPR the suspension remained in place. However, agency officials now say the suspension ended on March 7, 2022, or about two months earlier than previously reported.

“It sounds likely there was just some miscommunication on our end,” department spokesperson Kevin Hoffman said.

Hoffman said if a facility experiences a COVID-19 outbreak, the department would again suspend medical copays and notify people in that facility’s care.