In 2014, the Affordable Care Act will expand Medicaid to cover all adults earning less than 38-percent above the federal poverty level; a large portion of these beneficiaries will be former prison inmates and detainees. Michigan will expand its Medicaid program to help cover the healthcare costs of released offenders and current inmates who require long-term hospitalization or other specialized care outside of prison. This expansion of Medicaid will be financially beneficial to the state. Furthermore, the new benefits available may help former inmates adjust to independent living and could be a way to curb recidivism and improve the lives of former prisoners.
Upon release from prison, former inmates face a myriad of barriers to successful reintegration into society. In some cases, former inmates may not have a basic level of education. Without support for and access to basic services, housing or health care, many inmates are released into a familiarly hopeless environment, and recidivism becomes a vicious cycle. Expansion of Medicaid to cover the recently released will significantly reduce some of inmates’ stress of readjusting to independent life. Michigan has already been using state funds for reintegration programs that include health care — in the past five years, the state has seen its prison population decrease from 51,554 to 43,636.
A key element of Medicaid expansion is its coverage of continuous mental-health care for current and former prison inmates. Mental health is an oft-neglected segment of healthcare programs in general, but it plays an especially large role in the prison population and the effort to decrease the incidence of repeat offenders. Because mental illness is so often ignored until incidence of a major disturbance, the mentally ill are disproportionately represented in the prison population. According to the National Institute of Health, 56.2 percent of inmates in state prisons have a mental illness, compared with 26.2 percent of adult members of the general population. In order to reduce recidivism, it’s crucial to address both the mental and physical health of former inmates. After using limited state funds to assist released offenders with special needs, most of which were mental disorders, Michigan’s recidivism rates decreased by half between 1998 and 2012. Expansion of Medicaid will significantly increase funds available to provide continuing mental health care for inmates.
Additionally, Michigan will reap financial benefits from expansion of Medicaid. The federal government will take over more coverage of inmates who are enrolled in specialized care outside of the prison system, but more importantly, reduction of repeat offenders will save the state thousands of dollars per inmate. Expanded health care for former inmates will cost roughly $2,000 per person, versus $3,500 each year for every imprisoned inmate.
The state’s expansion of Medicaid for inmates will be a welcome change and will improve the quality of life for impoverished or mentally ill former inmates and greatly assist their reintegration into society.