The Affordable Care Act could become “the biggest piece of prison reform the U.S. will see in this generation,” Newsweek contends. That’s because the ACA may inadvertently change the makeup of the U.S. prison population by getting early help to those with mental health and drug abuse issues, ultimately reducing recidivism and saving states millions, if not billions, of dollars annually. The “epidemic of incarceration over the last four decades,” as Josiah Rich, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and co-founder of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at The Miriam Hospital, puts it, can be mostly attributed to addiction and mental illness. “The natural history of these diseases, when not treated, leads to behaviors that, in our society, result in incarceration,” he says.
Medicaid left out poor, single, male adults without dependent children, the same demographic most likely to end up arrested and incarcerated. Now eligible under Medicaid, “a lot of people who are going to jail for mental illness or substance abuse related crimes could potentially avoid jail,” says Marsha Regenstein, the director of the National Public Health and Hospital Institute, and a professor of health policy at George Washington University. Of course, these people are hard to reach, and eligibility doesn't ensure coverage or healthier behavior.