Affordable Care Act, healthcare, Michigan, Obamacare — August 15, 2014 at 11:33 am

Another benefit of Michigan Medicaid expansion: reducing state prison costs


It’s not just good for the state budget — it’s good for the health of current and former prisoners, which may help keep them from returning to prison.

I wrote more than a year ago about the benefits Medicaid expansion would bring to Michigan, including a boost to the health of Michigan’s citizens and its economy, with $1 billion in federal funding and an expected $2.1 billion increase in economic activity.

Now, the Healthy Michigan Plan — Michigan’s version of Medicaid expansion — is on track to help the state save $19 million in 2015 and improve the health of current and former prison inmates. [NOTE: This post was updated to correct a typo in the original post that misstated the savings as $19 billion.]

From The Detroit News:

Corrections officials and experts argue that providing uninsured ex-cons with treatment for the mental illness, substance abuse and chronic health conditions that otherwise can lead them to commit crimes again could reap future savings in the state’s $2 billion-a-year corrections budget.

‘What we’re … excited about is that there’s been a number of studies that show having health care is associated with lower recidivism,’ Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. ‘We think it will be successful in lowering recidivism rates and helping them (inmates) transition back into society.’

According to The Detroit News, research has shown that prisoners with untreated health conditions are more likely to end up back in prison: “An Urban Institute study of 1,100 Texas and Ohio offenders found that 84 percent of the men and 92 percent of the women had a physical, mental or substance abuse condition. Most were uninsured on release. And those with health problems had greater difficulty adjusting to life in the community and a higher likelihood of ending up back behind bars.”

It makes good sense. When people are in good health, they are more likely to find a job and have better attendance records and higher productivity. What’s more, being cut off from treatment for a physical or mental illness, or management of a substance abuse problem, can have serious consequences. Not only is it harder for people to find work — it’s a risk to their health and safety.

More from The Detroit News:

In Michigan, as in other states, mentally ill prisoners receive treatment and medication while they are incarcerated. But a majority of parolees don’t have health or mental health coverage after release, according to Marlan.

The result is that offenders whose conditions were stabilized while in prison are unlikely to afford the medications when they are released. The state spends about $9 million annually for treatment, medication and housing assistance for a limited number of mentally ill offenders after they’re paroled, Marlan added.

Health care is so critical for some offenders, especially the mentally ill, that they are kept in Michigan’s prisons beyond their parole dates primarily to receive health care. Without treatment and medication, they are likely to commit crimes again.

That’s certainly no solution. The Healthy Michigan Plan provides a much better one.

As Chris Savage has written here a number of times, there’s enough inhumane treatment of Michigan inmates going on already. The Healthy Michigan Plan provides an efficient, cost-effective alternative to keeping prisoners and former prisoners in jail longer than necessary or leaving them stranded without appropriate access to care.

It’s the right thing to do, and it will protect Michigan and its economy by helping prisoners return to life as productive, healthy members of the community.