The TCMH campus on South Sam Houston Blvd. in Houston.

Texas County government is under no legal obligation to pay medical expenses for inmate care to its county hospital and any effort to do so is a backdoor tax on county property owners, members of the Texas County Commission said Friday.

In a two-page press release commenting on a multi-year battle with Texas County Memorial Hospital, Commissioners John Casey, Scott Long and Doyle Heiney suggested the institution should put a tax on the ballot to see if property owners are willing to support one of the county’s largest employers. The written comments come after the hospital’s board of trustees said they’ve tried to reach an agreement without success with the county on the cost of treating patients and said its role would be limited to emergency situations and not routine care.

“The commission is not in favor of paying inmate bills just to create a backdoor tax on the people of this county. We believe the hospital is a vital part of our community and an asset for our county,” commissioners wrote. Adding, “We are also working on a proposal for TCMH for services at the jail. We have the one and only proposal sent to us by way of their attorney from the hospital which suggests we pay more than we are currently paying for inmate care.” The county contracts with an outside provider that provides part-time care at the jail at the Texas County Justice Center.

Commissioners, citing state statute, said costs are required to be paid by prisoners, from their own insurance benefits or court order and not the county. It says it is empowered at times to authorize payment of medical costs if it determines it to be “necessary and reasonable.” The county denied it owed anything to the hospital. “We, as a commission, feel this is inaccurate, according to state statues. We as a county have and will continue to pay all properly submitted bills, which are determined necessary and reasonable, incurred by the county at TCMH but will not allow tax dollars to be spend (sic) for medical expenses which should be paid by the inmate.”

TCMH CEO Wes Murray told the board of trustees at a recent meeting that he’d be unable to get commissioners to draw up a contract and the county was utilizing an out-of-state firm to provide medical care. The county clerk, which serves as the accounting officer for the county, wrote earlier she was prohibited from making any payment due to a lack of a contract, according to information provided to the TCMH board of trustees.

PDF: Commission statement

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