Idaho ex-inmates to see little benefit from Medicaid change

Inmates walk from a cellblock to a dining hall at the Idaho State Correctional Institution near Boise in 2010.
Inmates walk from a cellblock to a dining hall at the Idaho State Correctional Institution near Boise in 2010. AP

The Obama administration has announced efforts to make sure inmates have Medicaid coverage when they are released, including those in halfway houses.

The push could make it easier for as many as 100,000 former inmates nationwide to use the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, while they are transitioning back into the community. But it will have little effect on ex-inmates in Idaho.

Because Idaho lawmakers have not expanded Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults without dependent children, most former inmates in Idaho likely would fall into the “Medicaid gap,” a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare told the Statesman. The gap includes an estimated 78,000 Idaho adults who do not qualify for Medicaid and do not earn enough to reach the threshold to buy subsidized insurance on the state exchange.

While the Medicaid statute limits payment for services for individuals while residing in correctional institutions, Medicaid coverage can be crucial to ensuring a successful transition following incarceration.

Vikki Wachino, director, Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services within the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Ex-inmates who may qualify are those who already are eligible for Idaho’s barebones program because of a disability or other qualifying factor, said spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent letters on April 28 to state health officials, outlining the push to expedite Medicaid enrollment for ex-inmates.

“Many individuals in the justice-involved population have a high prevalence of long-untreated, chronic health care conditions as well as a high incidence of substance use and mental health disorders,” the letter said. “Facilitating enrollment in Medicaid and supporting access to services following incarceration has the potential to make a significant difference in the health of this population and in eligible individuals’ ability to obtain health services that can promote their well-being.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey