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Excluding inmates from Medicaid likely costs taxpayers even more

Mar 13, 2017

Expanding Medicaid was a key part of the Affordable Care Act. In our state, it's known as Healthy Michigan, and it has meant health care coverage for more than 600,000 people.

But if you wind up in the criminal justice system, even if its just pre-trial detention, Medicaid benefits turn off immediately.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say excluding inmates from Medicaid is driving up costs and hurting the health of inmates.

Dr. Tyler Winkelman is one of those researchers. He wrote an article on TheConversation.com to make his case for why the Medicaid exclusion should be repealed. He joined Stateside to talk about how the Medicaid exclusion originated and why he thinks the policy should be thrown out.

"Individuals who are involved in the justice system are by far some of the sickest patients that we take care of," said Winkelman. "And right now, because they are unable to access their Medicaid benefits while they're incarcerated, they're both receiving sub-optimal care and they're not receiving appropriate services to transition them to health care in the community." 

Without Medicaid to cover the costs, local counties pick up the health care tab for all inmates who are in jail while the state pays for the costs in state-run prisons. Based on numbers from 2011, the total health care costs to taxpayers nationwide for those in prison is as much as $7 billion. And that number has likely increased in the past six years. "Repealing the Medicaid exclusion would improve health for this population," Winkelman added. "It would also dramatically lower the costs that counties and states are paying for this health care and ... getting appropriate health care to these individuals can lower their likelihood of ending up in prison or jail again."  Listen to the full interview above to hear why women in the justice system create even more health care challenges for jails and prisons and what efforts are in the works to repeal the Medicaid exclusion. 
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