After three months in jail on a theft charge, Vincent Garcia, 26, left Louisville’s jail with free Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, says the Louisville Courier-Journal. The jail is holding daily sign-ups for exiting inmates, It’s part of a growing push nationwide by prisons and jails trying to take advantage of expanded health care to curb rapidly rising medical costs in a setting where many are poor, unhealthy and uninsured. Expensive inmate hospitalizations lasting more than 24 hours can be billed to Medicaid, cutting local and state costs.
The ex-inmates involved have high rates of chronic disease, substance abuse and mental illness that often land them back in jail, where they are expensive to treat. “I know some people will think, ‘I can’t afford health insurance myself. Now a person in jail gets access to health care?’ ” said Mark Bolton, director of the 2000-inmate jail. “But taxpayers are paying for these people anyway.” In Louisville, the corrections department’s health care costs make up $9 million of its $52 million budget — a result of treating medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, infections and drug problems. The investment is often lost when repeat offenders fail to continue treating their conditions when released because of a lack of health insurance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained that signing up those leaving jail or prison will add burdens to an already strained Medicaid program that is hard pressed to find enough doctors willing to accept Medicaid patients.