Originally posted at the Public Policy Institute of CA.
By Linda Strean.

A majority of inmates in California’s jail system are likely to be eligible for Medi-Cal, and providing health care coverage for them could have multiple benefits. These are the key findings of a new PPIC report, Expanding Health Coverage in California: County Jails as Enrollment Sites.

Coauthor Shannon McConville presented the report to a Sacramento audience last week. She noted that the 4 million state residents who are still uninsured will probably be the toughest to reach. The legislature has allocated money to target these Californians and increase enrollment in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

At the same time, counties—which have gained new responsibilities for low-level criminal offenders—have new incentives to help inmates successfully transition back into the community and avoid further contact with the criminal justice system.

“Health coverage, newly available under the ACA, could be part of a more comprehensive reentry strategy,” McConville said.

Managed care plans are also increasingly focused on better integrating physical health and behavioral health, providing more mental health and substance abuse treatment—services needed by the jail population.

These policy changes add up to an opportunity to leverage federal and state Medi-Cal resources to improve both public health and safety. Enrolling inmates could improve health care in the jail system, lower county corrections costs, and reduce recidivism.

McConville said the work to achieve these goals is just beginning. Counties are still adjusting to their new responsibilities. As a first step, they will need to identify effective enrollment strategies that improve reentry and reduce recidivism.