By Brittney Lofthouse
With North Carolina being one of only 12 states to not yet take advantage of the federal funding available to expand Medicaid to close the healthcare gap for working Americans, leaders in North Carolina are looking at various options, which stands to save state and county governments a substantial amount on the cost of healthcare for inmates.
Usually, Medicaid is limited to low-income children, a small number of their parents, pregnant women, and seniors in financial need. In North Carolina, individuals making between about $6,120 and $16,860 have been caught in a “coverage gap,” meaning they do not currently qualify for Medicaid and do not meet guidelines for assistance under the Affordable Care Act.
To close this healthcare gap, the federal government has allocated funding for states to expand Medicaid — with the federal government committed to paying 90 percent of the cost, more than the usual two-thirds of the cost for regular Medicaid patients
Of the approximately 750,000 people released from prisons in the U.S. annually, 40% of the men and 60% of the women released have mental health, substance abuse, or physical health problem, according to a 2012 report from the National Governors Association that studied the potential impact of Medicaid expansion.
Federal and state inmates who have been convicted of crimes are eligible for Medicaid, but those awaiting trial some for as long as three years, lose their eligibility. If North Carolina were to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, many more inmates could qualify under a plan developed by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and the state Division of Medical Assistance.
By expanding Medicaid, counties across North Carolina may be able to harness significant resources to address persistent criminal justice issues, including the opiate epidemic and the incarceration of people with severe mental illness who could more effectively be served in the community.