AUSTIN (AP) – About a dozen patients a year in Texas are billed by state hospitals for psychiatric care they were ordered to undergo by courts, a practice that has rankled criminal defendants committed to a hospital against their will, according to a newspaper report.
Most patients aren’t able to afford the cost of their treatment, but a few have been sent bills for their care, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Records obtained by the Statesman show the state hospitals system bills about one dozen patients a year with the hopes of recouping costs.
The state paid about $160 million last year for criminal defendants being held because they were found not guilty by reason of insanity or because they were found to be mentally unfit to stand trial. In the last three years, just $4 million has been collected in private fees from insurers and patients.
In a handful of cases, the state has used property liens to try to bill patients. Kerrville State Hospital placed a lien on the property of Cuthrell Lynn Hicks for a $50,601 bill.
Hicks was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2009 for pulling a gun on his sister, the newspaper reported. Hicks remains confined to Kerrville.
“The whole idea that a court would send someone there involuntarily and then charge them for it is patently unfair,” Hicks’ attorney, L. Jeth Jones, said.
Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, defended the practice of charging patients when possible and said using liens was rare.
“The whole purpose of a hospital is for treatment, and they are being billed for their treatment,” Goodman said. “If you have the resources, you should reimburse taxpayers for their expense.”
But Jones and others compared confinement in a state hospital to confinement in a state prison.
“We’re not doing that for inmates,” Jones said.
Carolyn Barnes, charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, was admitted to Kerrville in June 2011 by the order of a Central Texas judge. The order requires her to be kept in the hospital until she can be deemed competent enough to stand trial for the charge.
Earlier this month, Barnes received a hospital bill for $97,728. She is being billed $509 a day.
“You can’t forcibly commit someone and then make them pay for it,” Barnes told the newspaper. “For $509 a day, I could be in a five-star hotel.”
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