Local jail inmates will soon be signing up for health insurance - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Local jail inmates will soon be signing up for health insurance through Obamacare

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A new group is being targeted for insurance coverage through Obamacare:  jail inmates.

Local county officials say there are two big reasons for that. It's a way for their jails to save money on health care costs and it should also reduce the number of inmates who re-offend.

Hundreds of the inmates in Dane County have been to jail here before.

"At least one third of that population ends up recycling back through and a lot of the issues that are identified there have to do with substance abuse, mental illness," said Todd Campbell, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Manager for the Dane County Department of Human Services.

Most of the inmates who re-offend have no access to health insurance and, therefore, limited ways to deal with those issues.

But that will soon change with the hire of a re-entry coordinator in Dane County.

"He or she will work with people while they're in jail, hopefully from the minute they get there to start preparing for a successful re-entry when they're released," said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, who added the position to the 2014 budget.

In addition to helping those inmates with job searches and education, the re-entry coordinator will also help those inmates sign up for any benefits they might be eligible to receive.

That will include signing up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Beginning April 1st, the state will allow childless adults who are below the federal poverty level to obtain Medicaid coverage.  County officials want to make sure they do.

"If we can use this as a vehicle to get the mechanisms in place to get coverage right away, then we can help a lot more people get into recovery," said Campbell.

"Its certainly our goal to reduce recidivism," added Parisi.

Parisi says reducing recidivism not only creates more productive members of society, it also helps cut down on the ever-increasing costs at the county's jail and detention centers.  That's because Medicaid is paid for with federal dollars.

"We all know that resources are shrinking and every dollar we don't have to spend in corrections can be used elsewhere, either for tax savings or for programs that we really need to fund because they're under funded," said Parisi.

While inmates cannot receive Medicaid benefits during their incarceration, the Affordable Care Act does allow county jails and state prisons to bill Medicaid for inmate hospital stays of more than 24 hours. 

That's why Iowa County is also looking to start signing up jail inmates for coverage.

In 2011, prosecutors there actually vacated the jail sentence of an inmate who had a heart attack and had to come to a hospital in Madison for treatment.  County officials admitted they simply couldn't afford to pay his medical bills, which came to over $500,000.

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