National Review Online attacked a program that would make released inmates eligible for Medicaid as an “expensive addition” to the program, despite praise from experts who have pointed to the policy's potential to cut health care costs.
An NRO post attacked a provision in the Affordable Care Act which would make recently released prisoners eligible for Medicaid benefits. The blog attacked the program as an “expensive addition” to Medicaid, later complaining that “monumental poor life choices, including the ones felons have made ... will be subsidized by” taxpayers:
Obamacare expands Medicaid enrollment substantially. To deny someone enrollment because he'd served time in prison would surely violate the underlying intent of giving everyone equal health care. And if affordable health care is now a right, to deprive former felons would be to impose a punishment in addition to their original sentence. So to some extent, felons' new Medicaid eligibility makes legal sense.
But there's nevertheless an annoying hypocrisy here.
As Bloomberg's recent soda campaign so aptly demonstrated, once health care becomes a public expense, personal choices become a public concern. Taxpayers can expect to be nagged about small poor life choices like opting for a bigger beverage or a higher-calorie meal choice.
But monumental poor life choices, including the ones felons have made -- which result in lower incomes and worse health -- will be subsidized by those same taxpayers.
It may be equal, but it doesn't seem very fair.
But experts have pointed out that the program could lead to an overall reduction in health care spending. A Pew Stateline article quoted proponents of the program who explained that making released inmates eligible for Medicaid would reduce medical costs by providing access to preventive care and reducing the use of emergency care as a primary health care provider:
Researchers and those who advocate on behalf of ex-convicts hail the change as monumental, saying it will help address the generally poor health of ex-offenders, reduce medical costs and possibly keep them from sliding back into crime.
“It potentially revolutionizes the criminal justice system and health system,” said Faye Taxman, a health services criminologist at George Mason University. “We now have a golden opportunity to develop and implement quality interventions to both improve health outcomes for this population and also reduce the rate of criminal activity.”
Since most recently released prisoners are not pregnant or disabled, the vast majority of them do not have Medicaid or health insurance of any kind. As a result, studies show, many do not receive treatment for chronic conditions or continue on medications prescribed in prison. They also do not generally see primary care doctors, relying instead on emergency rooms, an expensive way of delivering medical care.
A brief in the May, 2012, issue of the National Conference of State Legislatures' periodical noted that “Medicaid can save states millions of dollars” by expanding access to former inmates. The post went on to describe similar programs in Mississippi and California that has led to significant state health care savings, despite small enrollment.