Considering the crime rate in Chicago we’ll probably meet the enrollment goals in no time.
Being arrested in Chicago for, say, drug possession or assault gets you sent to the Cook County Jail to be fingerprinted, photographed and X-rayed. You’ll also get help applying for health insurance.
At least six states and counties from Maryland to Oregon’s Multnomah are getting inmates coverage under Obamacare and its expansion of Medicaid, the federal and state health-care program for the poor. The fledgling movement would shift to the federal government some of the more than $6.5 billion in annual state costs for treating prisoners. Proponents say it also will make recidivism rarer, because inmates released with coverage are more likely to get treatment for mental illness, substance abuse and other conditions that can lead them to crime.
“When someone gets discharged from the jail and they don’t have insurance and they don’t have a plan, we can pretty much set our watch to when we’re going see them again,” said Ben Breit, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
The still-small programs could reach a vast population: At the end of 2012, almost 7 million people in the U.S. were on parole, probation, in prison or locked up in jail, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 13 million people are booked into county jails each year, according to the Washington-based National Association of Counties.
Come to think of it, this is probably where they’re getting their phony enrollment numbers from.
Cook County has been operating a pilot project to enroll prisoners in Medicaid since April under a federal waiver, while states including Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland and counties such as Multnomah, which includes Portland, have helped hundreds of prisoners apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act since it took effect Jan. 1. California, Ohio, San Francisco and other jurisdictions are starting programs or considering them.
About 90 percent of inmates are uninsured, and many have never had treatment for their illness, Osher said. They have disproportionate rates of communicable and chronic diseases and behavioral disorders, he said. About 488,000 people in U.S. prisons and jails suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arlington, Virginia.
Perhaps this geniuses should have come up with a program to cover their criminal constituency instead of messing with the insurance plans of law-abiding Americans. Radical idea, huh?
Cook County, which includes Chicago and has the largest single-site jail complex in the U.S., has started about 13,000 insurance applications since April, said Marlena Jentz of the sheriff’s public-policy office. More than 2,000 prisoners have obtained coverage after their release, she said.
When people are booked into the jail, they get photographed and fingerprinted, turn over their personal property, go through a full-body scan and head to a classification area. There, they are assigned a cell, and a worker from Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities helps them complete an application for Medicaid.
Now they’re free to ply their criminal trade unshackled from the stigma of not being covered.