“I'm Happy, I'm Clean”


Now that he's getting help for his drug addiction, John Jacobs is confident he won't go back to prison.

The 27-year-old West Virginia resident spent a year locked up for pawning stolen electronics to support his addiction. Released in January, he has been treated for substance abuse at a long-term residential treatment facility thanks to his state's decision to accept the expanded Medicaid available under the Affordable Care Act.

“I'm happy, I'm clean,” said Jacobs.

“I was fortunate to get on Medicaid because I was getting [treatment] for free for three months through the [Veterans Administration] and then I got to pay for the rest of it,” Jacobs said. “I work, but I pay for child support and stuff so I don't make enough to do that.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin used federal money to expand West Virginia's Medicaid program. As of the end of May, more than 120,000 West Virginians had signed up under the expanded program.

That number includes ex-inmates with drug addictions like Jacobs, according to the West Virginia Gazette, which explored the impact of the program in a story published this month

State officials believe those people will get treatment for their addictions and mental health problems under expanded Medicaid — and fewer of them will commit crimes again and end up back in prison.

“One of the drivers behind a criminal history, directly or indirectly, is a substance abuse problem,” Jim Rubenstein, commissioner of the state Division of Corrections told the Gazette earlier this year.

“[Medicaid coverage] could make a critical difference, by having some kind of coverage that would gain these individuals access to needed treatment or counseling. And while we know that substance abuse is a big issue, to have coverage for basic medical care could also make a difference in their lives as well.”

Under the health care reform law, West Virginia expanded its Medicaid program to cover those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,000 a year for an individual.

As of May 27, 123,403 West Virginia residents had signed up for Medicaid under the expanded program.

According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Justice, about 35 percent of those newly eligible under the income guidelines will have a history of involvement in the criminal justice system. The state Division of Corrections does not yet have estimates for how many of those will be eligible for Medicaid.

Lori Kersey is Assistant City Editor for News for the West Virginia Gazette. She was a 2013 John Jay/Langeloth Health Journalism Reporting Fellow, and her story was produced as part of her project for the Center on Media, Crime and Justice symposium on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on Corrections. For the full story, please click HERE. She welcomes comments from readers.

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