Advocates hope that enrolling thousands of ex-offenders in Medicaid under Obamacare can reduce recidivism and save incarceration costs. “This is a huge opportunity,” Kamala Mallik-Kane, who studies correctional systems, inmates, and health policy at the Urban Institute, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “The unprecedented step of connecting these newly eligible people to health insurance has incredible potential to change the trajectory of inmates to reintegrate back into society and not back into the justice system.”
Many experts, however, are wary of the notion that health reform and access to Medicaid for formerly imprisoned men can truly transform the criminal-justice system. “Medicaid enrollment for inmates is not the silver bullet,” says Paul Howard, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank and director of its Center for Medical Progress. He suggests that Medicaid, a $265 billion federal expenditure last year, is not yielding adequate results for the cost and that it's time to take “a long and hard look” before expanding it to serve even more people. “Extending those benefits to a historically transient and difficult population with a whole host of social-issues challenges will not change their approach to health care or [their] behaviors,” he warns.