SPRINGFIELD – Illinois prison officials estimate nearly 30,000 newly freed inmates will be eligible for Medicaid coverage in 2014 under President Barack Obama's health care law.
In the past, many parolees didn't qualify for Medicaid benefits and were left uninsured after their release from prison. State officials said Medicaid will give them better access to care for physical and mental health issues and may help them succeed on the outside, according to a report by Lee Enterprises newspapers' Springfield bureau.
"The benefits will include long-term public health benefits and increase public safety by reducing crime and recidivism," Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said.
The Department of Corrections is making plans to help inmates connect with Medicaid before they're released, so they can make a smooth transition into the state and federal health care program for the poor, Shaer said.
Current parolees, like other Illinois residents, can start signing up for health benefits now with help from trained enrollment counselors at nonprofit organizations around the state.
"This is clearly a population that has serious health care needs," Mike Claffey, a spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, told The Associated Press. "It will benefit the state as a whole to enable them to gain access to comprehensive health coverage that puts them in a position to succeed and lead a productive life."
Illinois prison officials estimate 28,700 parolees are eligible for coverage in the state. One national estimate puts the U.S. number at more than 350,000.
Illinois is among about 26 states planning to expand Medicaid benefits to childless adults under the Affordable Care Act. Last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the law, but made Medicaid expansion optional for states.
Under the health law, the federal government will pay the entire cost for people newly eligible for Medicaid for the first three years, starting in 2014. The federal share falls to 90 percent by 2020.