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Bill would have feds take up 70 percent of county prisoner medical costs

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — Counties across Alabama currently pay nearly all medical costs for Medicaid-eligible inmates in their county jails who lose their health coverage once they’re arrested. A proposal in the Senate would change that.

After being arrested and going to jail for just a day, anyone who has Medicaid benefits loses their benefits. Once in jail the counties foot the full bill for their healthcare, and many of the inmates have mental illnesses.

If they are released from jail, it can take months for former inmates’ Medicaid coverage to be reinstated.

“For three months or two months, someone cannot get the prescriptions or therapy they need for their mental health problem,” Ward said. “That person is more likely than not to commit another crime or engage in some other activity that breaks the law and sends them right back to county jail. That’s what driving the revolving door in our county jails.”

Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, judiciary committee chairman, would allow inmates to keep their Medicaid benefits if they are arrested. Counties would foot 30 percent of the bill, and the remaining costs would be covered by matching Medicaid funding from the Federal government.

Right now, counties are paying 100 percent of the medical costs.

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Being arrested would no longer terminate their Medicaid coverage. Once out of prison, inmates would still have their Medicaid benefits and could continue taking needed medicines and other therapies provided through their coverage.

“This is going to be a win-win situation for everybody,” said Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade, who joined Ward and other law enforcement officers at a press conference Tuesday. “Financially, it’s going to be a win-win for the counties because a lot of times we are overburdened with the health care associated with somebody who has mental health issues.”

Steve McCool, Dale County commissioner, also joined Ward and said he supports the bill.

“I believe the bill will do a lot to stop the revolving door that we have continuously,” McCool said. “It’s a protection bill for our population, for their finances and their protection.”

A similar bill affecting State prisons and inmates’ Medicaid coverage was passed last year. Ward said he expects questions about the bill during its committee debut Wednesday, but he thinks it will pass out of committee and onto the Senate floor this week.

Written By

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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