Group says expanding Medicaid can shrink prison populations

States expanding Medicaid coverage under ObamaCare can keep people out of jail, according to a liberal think-tank.

Judith Solomon, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Wednesday that while critics have decried giving people who have served time access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, studies show it can help reduce recidivism and overall costs to states.

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“States considering whether to expand Medicaid should consider the growing evidence that connecting the jail-involved population to treatment for mental illness and substance abuse can lower recidivism,” she said.

So far 26 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare. The rest have either turned down the provision altogether or are still debating the issue.

Solomon said three quarters of all jail stays involve illegal drugs and half involve alcohol, but most detainees don’t have access to health coverage.

She also noted only 11 percent of jail inmates get treatment for substance abuse while incarcerated.

“Connecting these individuals to health coverage can enable more of them to avoid returning to jail or prison by connecting them to needed mental health, substance abuse, or other treatment,” she said.

Solomon said in many states people lose their Medicaid coverage after they are incarcerated, which means they don’t have access to mental and medical treatments after they are released.

Instead, she said, states should temporarily suspend Medicaid coverage for those incarcerated but immediately turn it back on once they are released so they can get access to treatments that can help them stay out of jail.

“These efforts require collaboration among multiple state agencies… and, in most states, the involvement of counties and localities that operate jails,” she said. “But they hold potential for reducing the number of inmates who return to jail, thereby eventually reducing state costs.”