Information sharing, coordination key to covering ex-prisoners, parolees

To deliver cost-efficient, effective care, health plans must understand the health needs of the criminal justice-involved population, according to a study in the March issue of Health Affairs.

People in jails or prisons and those who are on probation or parole have high rates of undiagnosed chronic and infectious diseases and unaddressed behavioral healthcare issues. So health plans need to include mental health and substance abuse treatment in their benefit package for this population, according to the study.

People released from a correctional facility may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid expansion and health exchanges, and will require new approaches to patient engagement, as well as information sharing and care coordination. Those approaches should include collaboration between health plans and peer-support programs regarding prevention, wellness and recovery-oriented services.

Health plans also should partner with prison in-take officers, prison discharge planners and probation and parole officers in their service area. Such relationships can better link ex-prisoners and parolees to healthcare services--for example, a corrections officer could make a healthcare treatment regimen part of a former inmate's comprehensive community reentry plan, the study noted.

When it comes to information sharing, the study recommended corrections departments and health plans exchange information about the medical histories of people entering and leaving correctional facilities, such as whether they were diagnosed and treated for various conditions while incarcerated.

The findings come as health officials in San Francisco are betting that former inmates with insurance will be more likely to access addiction treatment, which would, in turn, curtail criminal incidents. Similarly, a January study found prison systems are increasingly helping prisoners enroll in Medicaid, aiming to lower prison system costs and improve prisoners' access to healthcare upon release.

To learn more:
- here's the Health Affairs abstract