AZ inmates receive health care some law-abiding citizens can’t - WNEM TV 5

AZ inmates receive health care some law-abiding citizens can’t

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Robert Henry Moorman received bypass surgery three months before he was executed. Robert Henry Moorman received bypass surgery three months before he was executed.

Lynette Barrett's eyes well up with tears when she talks about her husband, Murray, his struggle to survive and their family's struggle to keep up with medical bills.

"Nine years ago last December," Barrett said is when she discovered Murray had liver failure. "He needs a new liver," she said.

But her sorrow quickly turns to confusion after learning that life-saving medical procedures for Arizona death-row inmates are paid by the state while families like the Barretts no longer qualify for state assistance.

Unable to work and with no health insurance, the Barretts found themselves under a mountain of debt and with an even larger bill on the horizon.

"He's had three hospital stays in the last year and each of them has been over $50,000. Without insurance, we had to have $100,000 up front before they'd even consider a transplant," said Barrett.

To raise money, the Barretts and other families in similar situations have had to become creative. They've held pancake breakfasts, auctions, car washes and accept donations on their blog.

Since 2010, the state indigent healthcare system has purged more than 100,000 people from its rolls. The Barretts are among those who no longer qualify for state money.

State leaders say helping them is a luxury they just can't afford. But a CBS 5 investigation found cases where state dollars have gone to lifesaving operations in one of the unlikeliest places: death row. 

Every inmate there is awaiting execution and in a strange quirk of the law, some of those condemned inmates are receiving the kind of state-funded medical care being denied to law-abiding citizens who don't have health insurance.

In 1984, Robert Moorman murdered his adoptive mother and chopped her into pieces. But in November of last year, Moorman received a quintuple heart bypass surgery at the taxpayers' expense. He was executed three months later.

Why does the state pay for healthcare for prison inmates?

"Because there's no choice," said Daniel Pachoda, who is the legal director for the Phoenix office of the ACLU.

He said he can't explain what happened to Moorman, but the requirements of the death penalty may help explain it.

"That is a quirk in the law that people have to be medically and physically competent before they're allowed to be executed," said Pachoda.

But according to Pachoda, it would be a mistake to think that all inmates get the same treatment.

The ACLU recently sued the state, citing dozens of cases where basic medical treatment or antibiotics would have saved the lives of inmates or spared them from serious illness.

Lynette Barrett says the Moorman case does not make any sense to her. 

"It's really hard to see somebody they're going to execute in three months ... what was the point of the bypass?" she asked.

Department of Corrections officials would not discuss any specific inmate medical questions, but they said medical professionals are the ones who make the decisions about healthcare for inmates. And they insist that all inmates receive the same constitutionally required medical care.

Copyright 2012 CBS 5   (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. 

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