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Harris County moves to bill inmates' health insurance during jail visits

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Harris County Jail leaders are exploring a new idea for saving millions of dollars during its budget crisis.

Instead of providing free health care when people are locked up, one county commissioner wants to bill health insurance just like a hospital or a doctor's office would.

"I know there are plenty of people that drive off in nice cars that get arrested and they have health insurance,"

said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack at Tuesday's meeting of commissioners court.

Radack, a former police officer, said,

"I think we have let untold millions of dollars slip through the cracks."

Sheriff Adrian Garcia's jail commanders stood at a podium before commissioners for the surprise request.

Radack told them,

"I think we could save millions of dollars by making claims on those policies when we treat those people."

He ended by telling jail leaders, "I'm asking you to take care of this."

Chief Deputy Mike Smith answered, "Yes, sir."

He said his staff performs a health screening on every newly arrested inmate, so he agreed that it would be rather simple to ask every inmate about their health insurance during that screening process.

However, another member of the Sheriff's command staff quickly stepped forward to say that legalities of such an idea would need to be explored, so the Harris County Attorney's office would be involved in studying the proposal.

It's the latest specific policy of the Harris County Sheriff to come under fire from an increasingly impatient commissioners court. While Radack is by far the most outspoken critic of the sheriff on commissioner's court, there are others on the court who have been ready to change funding or contracts when they don't like Garcia's policies.

No timetable was set for the health insurance idea to come back before commissioners for any possible vote.

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