Jails and prisons are beginning to sign up inmates for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid that allows states to extend coverage to single and childless adults, who are a major part of the prison population, the New York Times reports. State and counties are enrolling inmates for two main reasons. Although Medicaid does not cover standard health care for inmates, it can pay for their hospital stays beyond 24 hours, meaning states can transfer millions of dollars of obligations to the federal government. The most important benefit, corrections officials say, is that inmates who are enrolled in Medicaid while in jail or prison can have coverage after they get out.
People released from jail or prison have disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases like mental illness and addictive disorders. Few have insurance, and many would qualify for Medicaid under the income test for the program — 138 percent of the poverty line — in the 25 states that have e expanded their programs. Experts estimate that up to 35 percent of those newly eligible for Medicaid under the Obama health care law are people with histories of criminal justice system involvement, including inmates and those on parole or probation. “There can be little doubt that it would be controversial if it was widely understood that a substantial proportion of the Medicaid expansion that taxpayers are funding would be directed toward convicted criminals,” said Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy group.