The Affordable Care Act extends health care benefits to people in the community who have been incarcerated.
Marsha Regenstein, a professor in the department of health policy at George Washington University, observes how the law will benefit people with a history of having spent time in jail.
Marsha Regenstein is a professor in the Department of Health Policy at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. Her research interests include addressing health care quality and disparity issues, including gaps in care for vulnerable populations. She has been a member of the faculty since 2001 and earned her PhD in public policy with a health concentration at the George Washington University in 1999.
Marsha Regenstein – The Health Care of Former Prisoners
Jails, unlike prisons, typically house offenders who have been detained or arrested but mostly for non-violent crime. They’re typically people who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse and are picked up by the police. Counties, cities and other localities are responsible for providing inmates with health care while they are in jail. However, most people who have spent time in jail are poor and lack health insurance. They’re often released back into the community with some of the same health problems that got them into trouble in the first place.
The federal health reform law known as the Affordable Care Act provides people who have spent time in jail with crucial health coverage, often for the first time. My coauthor Sara Rosenbaum and I found that about 4 million people who had been in jail will be able to get coverage for disorders such as mental illness. If left untreated, such conditions can worsen and can lead to another arrest.
The analysis shows that an estimated one out of six people enrolling in the expanded Medicaid programs have spent time in jail. And another one out of ten people signing up for a health plan under the new Marketplace exchanges also will have the same history.
Better access to health coverage might help provide these people with the stability they need to stay healthy–and out of trouble with the law. Our analysis suggests that the Affordable Care Act is an investment that could lead to better health, lower health care costs and a lower risk of recidivism.