SPRINGFIELD — Illinois prison officials say as many as 30,000 newly freed inmates could be in line to gain health care coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act.
As part of the new federal health insurance law, Illinois is among the states that will offer Medicaid coverage to all non-elderly, low-income adults.
That includes prison parolees, who typically leave the Illinois Department of Corrections without any health coverage and must use emergency rooms when they are sick or injured.
The agency says the change may not only offer parolees a path to treat chronic ailments and mental health issues, but it could stop them from committing new crimes.
"The benefits will include long-term public health benefits and increase public safety by reducing crime and recidivism," Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said in a statement.
"It will help them avoid getting in trouble. It will help them keep a job," saidMike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, states were required to provide Medicaid coverage to certain low-income children, pregnant women and disabled adults.
Now, states that have agreed to the Medicaid expansion, including Illinois, must offer Medicaid to low-income adults under the age of 65, regardless of whether they are disabled or pregnant.
While Illinois prison officials estimate there are 28,700 parolees eligible for coverage, the Council of State Government's Justice Center puts the national tally at more than 350,000. The latter number includes former prisoners who also may qualify for insurance through the state's health exchanges.
In a 2011 report to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, officials estimated parolees could make up a quarter of all new Medicaid enrollees in Illinois after 2014.
Shaer said officials have designed a plan to begin the Medicaid enrollment process when felons are first entering the state's prison system so that the inmates have a managed care organization picked out when they are discharged.
Although that plan is not in place now, that won't stop parolees from simply enrolling through, for example, local public health departments. Parolees also may have an opportunity to enroll at various parolee expos held each year.
The federal government will reimburse Illinois for 100 percent of the cost of each enrollee for the next three years. After that, the reimbursement rate drops to 90 percent.
"It's for our benefit to get this population enrolled," Claffey said.