Medicaid expansion helps inmates avoid the revolving door

Prison Bars

Expanded Medicaid coverage could help inmates stay out of jail, once they are released. Flickr photo by Thomas Hawk

Meet Tony, who’s been booked into King County Jail more than twenty times. He has Hepatitis C, an enlarged liver, and a long history of alcoholism. He’s getting treated while in jail, but what happens when he gets out?

The link between jail-time and medical needs — and how the Affordable care Act can change the equation — is the focus of Ruby de Luna’s new report for KUOW.

The revolving door for jail prisoners — who come back multiple times — often has a link to inaccessible medications or untreated drug and alcohol addictions. For many of them, jail is where they finally get the medical care they need.

Then, when they’re set free, their physical and psychological health declines again, contributing to how they fall back into criminal habits.

The Affordable Care Act offers a tool to address inmates’ health concerns after they leave jail — through the expansion of Medicaid.

King County is involving caseworkers, release planners and insurance companies to provide inmates with health options as they get ready to transition back into society.

As de Luna reports:

“This really opens the door for them to get the care they need,” said Bette Pine, manager of King County’s jail health services.

… The idea is to make sure there’s follow-through when an inmate leaves jail; it increases the likelihood of a successful transition.

In the last decade, she continues, Washington state’s health care costs at correctional facilities have almost doubled. Once released, many inmates are unable to afford the care their conditions require, which leads to high recidivism rates among the mentally and physically ill.

King County is not alone in recognizing this connection. Across the state and country similar programs are being enacted.

Listen to Tony tell his story and see the full article at

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