Association of Counties Pushes Obamacare for Prisoners

Wednesday, 05 Mar 2014 02:50 PM

By Matthew Vadum

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At least six states and several local governments are signing up prison inmates on Obamacare exchanges after the National Association of Counties (NACo) began encouraging counties to shift some prisoner healthcare expenses onto federal taxpayers.

Convicted prisoners under sentence may not be covered under the Obamacare law, but inmates awaiting trial can be signed up on the healthcare exchanges under a provision in the Affordable Care Act that expanded eligibility for Medicaid on Jan. 1.

Giving prisoners Obamacare coverage inflates enrollment numbers for the program and allows states and counties to avoid paying for expensive hospital stays.

To take advantage of the looser Medicaid signup rules, NACo put together a "how to" guide two years ago that encourages counties to apply for Obamacare for prisoners who are in pretrial detention.

Enrolling county jail inmates under the Affordable Care Act will be better for the prisoners and will benefit society as a whole, NACo states in its briefing booklet titled, "County Jails and the Affordable Care Act: Enrolling Eligible Individuals in Health Coverage."

The document states that the expanded coverage offered by Obamacare will "better connect individuals involved in the criminal justice system to appropriate medical and behavioral healthcare services, which in turn has the potential to reduce recidivism rates as well as county jail healthcare costs."

But David Hogberg, a healthcare policy expert at the National Center for Public Policy Research, said putting prisoners into the Obamacare exchanges will drive up insurance premiums and hurt taxpayers.

"These people are going to be on the exchanges when they're sick and probably won't ever be on them if they ever get healthy," Hogberg told Newsmax. "That just adds to a recipe leading to even higher insurance prices and probably insurance company bailouts."

Paul Beddoe, NACo's deputy legislative director, acknowledged that counties will save money by pushing prisoners into the exchanges, but insisted that counties aren't acting solely to save on costs.

Typically the people sitting in jail are low-income individuals, often with mental health issues, Beddoe told Newsmax. "Jail actually has been shown to be a very expensive place to keep people, and it makes their problems worse.

"It just makes sense to get [prisoners] connected" to health insurance, Beddoe said. "When you are getting ready to put someone back on the street, that is a public health issue. The person becomes part of the health ecosystem of the community."

Former Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, who sat on the Senate Finance Committee when the Affordable Care Act was approved, told Bloomberg News he didn't remember the topic of using the health law to cover inmates coming up.

"It starts to look a little like a scheme by the states and local jurisdictions to avoid responsibilities that are really theirs," Conrad said.

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio are reportedly signing up prisoners on the Obamacare exchanges, along with Montgomery County, Md.; Santa Fe County, N.M.; Cook County, Ill.; and Multnomah County, Ore.

Beddoe said NACo is encouraging counties to use inmates' encounters with the justice system "as an opportunity to get their lives turned around."

These people tend to have "messy chaotic lives," he said. "They're not really form filler-outers."

NACo, which represents 3,068 counties across America, is one of the "Big 7" state and local government lobbying groups, all of which push to expand the size and scope of government, conservative critics say.

Production of NACo's March 2012 briefing booklet was funded by the left-wing Public Welfare Foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C.

That foundation acknowledged in a tax filing that it gave $62,000 in 2011 to NACo's charitable arm, the National Association of Counties Research Foundation, for an "inmate health coverage" project.

A prominent member of the Public Welfare Foundation's board, nonprofit consultant Shirley Sagawa, served on President Barack Obama's transition team in 2008.

The Public Welfare Foundation isn't the only grant-making institution funding groups that encourage states and local governments to sign up prisoners for Obamacare.

Through his Open Society philanthropic network, left-wing financier and Obama donor George Soros gave money to Chicago-based Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). TASC helped to set up Obamacare enrollment programs for prisoners at Chicago's Cook County Jail, one of the largest jails in the nation.

According to the Daily Caller, Open Society gave TASC a $49,417 grant in 2012. TASC is also funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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