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home : news : state news free February 5, 2016

11/7/2013 10:26:00 AM
Illinois brings Obamacare to jails
Benjamin Yount
Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — When you exit prison in Illinois you’ll get your street clothes, a notice of when to check-in with your parole officer and a pamphlet about Obamacare.

The state’s prisons and county jails are taking a proactive approach to enrolling people, mostly into Medicaid, through the Affordable Care Act. They’re starting the process while prisoners are locked up.

“When the person is in custody, they’re not eligible for enrollment,” McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery told Illinois Watchdog. “The stance we’re taking here in McLean County…is that we’re starting the process with inmates to get them enrolled for health care.”

Emery said his staff will fill out almost all of the paperwork for Obamacare so that once someone is released they can sign a few pages and be enrolled in Medicaid, or apply for private insurance. Most will go into Medicaid.

In Illinois’ prisons, inmates who are set to be released are told they could be covered by Medicaid well before their last day.

“Parole school in prisons serves as a primer on what to do upon release,” said Tom Shaer, Illinois’ prison spokesman for Illinois Department of Corrections. “IDOC informs inmates of their rights and opportunities under ACA, just as we inform them of all resources available to them in health care.”

Shaer said Illinois hopes to enroll its 28,000 parolees in Obamacare. Most of them would be covered under Medicaid expansion.

“There are certain portions of IDOC’s inmate population who are currently Medicaid eligible — the over 65 population and our pregnant female population,” Shaer said.

Medicaid will not pay for care for other inmates who currently serving sentences, he added.

Greg Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, said the key is where the inmate is sleeping.

“Federal rules say you cannot be on Medicaid and in jail or prison, but once you get out you are covered,” Sullivan said.

That even applies to short releases. “If we take you and put you in a hospital, you’re are still covered,” he said.

Sullivan said inmate health care is often the second largest cost for a county jail.

Counties are seeing Obamacare as a way to shift some of those health care costs from their budgets to the federal government.

“There will be some savings,” Emery said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be an immediate savings for county taxpayers.”

Illinois has added 114,000 people to its Medicaid rolls under Obamacare, while no one knows how many people have signed up for private insurance. Republican lawmakers expect to add as many as 500,000 people to Medicaid in the next year.

Obamacare is set to pay for all of the costs for three years (and 90 percent after that) for newly eligible Medicaid clients, mostly the young single men who are the same young men coming out of prison or jail.

Illinois spent nearly $12 billion on Medicaid last year. Republicans at the Capitol say Illinois can expect to spend $1 billion more on Medicaid next year, regardless of the extra federal cash. If the federal government pays less than 90 percent of the cost for the young men it is adding to Medicaid, Illinois’ Medicaid spending could skyrocket by more than $6 billion a year.

Contact Benjamin Yount at or find him on Twitter @BenYount.

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