Atlanta Journal Constitution (04.20.13)
Because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ex-convicts will be eligible for Medicaid upon release from prison beginning in 2014. Medicaid is the federal-state health insurance partnership that covers children, pregnant women, and disabled adults with low income. States that agree to the Medicaid expansion will begin providing Medicaid to all non-elderly low-income adults in 2014; states can opt out of the Medicaid expansion.
Approximately 650,000 inmates leave US prisons each year. ACA will also extend Medicaid to a “sizeable portion” of nearly five million ex-prisoners on parole or probation. Ex-prisoners whose income from employment is too high for Medicaid will still qualify for federal tax credits for health insurance through state insurance exchanges.
In general, the prison population has worse health than the overall US population, with higher rates of TB, HIV, hepatitis, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, addiction, and mental illness, according to a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study. Typically, prisoners receive health screenings upon admission and health care services throughout incarceration. After release, ex-convicts with no access to health care frequently discontinue treatment for chronic conditions and rely on the emergency room for care—an expensive form of health care. Ex-convicts have much higher mortality rates than the general population; cardiovascular disease and drug overdose are the leading causes of death for ex-prisoners.
Those who advocate for ex-convicts believe that access to health care will make it possible to improve health outcomes for the population, reduce medical costs, and perhaps prevent prisoners from returning to crime. The federal Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act will also help ex-convicts since it requires insurers to provide benefits for mental health and substance treatment in addition to medical and surgical services.