Prison inmates boost Medicaid rolls

Experts estimate up to 35 percent of consumers who are now eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are prison inmates and those on parole or probation.

State and county jails and prisons are enrolling their inmates in Medicaid, which allows them to retain coverage when they're released. That's important because former inmates have excessively high rates of mental illness and addictive disorders, yet few have insurance, reported the New York Times.

"For those newly covered, it will open up treatment doors for them," Fred Osher, director of health systems and services policy for the Council of State Governments Justice Center, told the Times.

In fact, about one in six people expected to enroll in Medicaid and almost one in 10 individuals who are expected to enroll in plans sold on health insurance exchanges will have spent some time in jail during the past year, according to a study published in this month's issue of Health Affairs.

"The Affordable Care Act for the first time gives incarcerated people--one of the nation's most high-risk populations--the opportunity to have continuous access to healthcare," the study authors wrote.

Since receiving treatment for addiction leads to fewer arrests, having health insurance could potentially reduce crime among former inmates. Without newly available Medicaid coverage, inmates typically leave prison with only 30 days' worth of medication.

"If they go off their medication, oftentimes it can once again lead to more criminal activity," Rick Raemisch, executive director of Colorado's Department of Corrections, told the Times. "So by keeping them medicated and keeping them mentally healthy, it really helps us in our re-entry efforts."

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the Health Affairs study abstract

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