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Inmates can sign up for health care

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GREENFIELD — Inmates at the Hancock County Jail will be able to sign up for the Affordable Care Act in an effort local officials hope could curb costs for medical services in the long run.

The Hancock County Council this week agreed to pay up to $2,250 for a company to assist inmates in signing up for federal medical coverage, hopping on the bandwagon of jails nationwide that hope to curb local expenses on medical care.

“The county wants them to have health care coverage because otherwise, the county taxpayers pay 100 percent of their bills,” said county attorney Ray Richardson. “If we can talk one inmate into (federal) insurance, that’s a savings to taxpayers.”

The Affordable Care Act extends Medicaid to single and childless adults. While before, the county jail was obligated to pay for all medical care of inmates – including pricey extended stays in hospitals – now, the federal government will take on the bills of the inmates who sign up.

“You have this segment of the population now that has some eligibility that didn’t have it before,” said Lisa Scroggins, co-owner of Quality Correctional Care, a medical and nursing company the county pays to care for inmates and handle insurance questions. “Now, childless adults who are low- income or at-risk, (have) mental issues or drug issues, have access to care that they’ve never had before.”

Because inmates at the jail don’t have access to a telephone or the Internet, Quality Correctional Care will be paid $50 to assist each inmate who is interested in signing up for the coverage.

“Our navigators fill out a form, (they’ll) sign an authorization form to navigate on their behalf, and we will enroll for them,” Scroggins said.

The company will offer the service to the 45 inmates who were incarcerated prior to Oct. 1 and who don’t expect to get out of jail by March 31. Oct. 1 was the first day people could sign up for the coverage, and March 31 is the deadline.

If all 45 inmates take part in the program, the county will pay Quality Correctional Care $2,250.

Jails and prisons around the country are beginning to sign up inmates under the Affordable Care Act, the New York Times reported earlier this week. From Chicago to Colorado to Oregon, jail staffs are seeing the benefit of cutting local costs on medical care for inmates.

Health care experts estimate up to 35 percent of those newly eligible for Medicaid under the federal health care law are people with histories in the criminal justice system, including jail and prison inmates and those on parole or probation, the NYT reported.

While the county council Wednesday considered offering sign-ups to those on probation as well, members decided against it because they have access to the Internet and are able sign up for it on their own.

Inmates who sign up for the Affordable Care Act will have to pay the cost of premiums on their own to stay in the program, unless they make less than 133 percent of the poverty level, Scroggins said.

Sheriff Mike Shepherd and Maj. Brad Burkhart pointed out that the county could be liable to lawsuits if it did not offer sign-ups to inmates.

Richardson said that’s true to an extent. The county could simply offer a telephone or computer to them, but paying a company to sign them up could be money well spent. One trip to the hospital paid by Medicaid instead of by the jail, Richardson added, could more than pay for the sign-up costs.

“If that’s one inmate we don’t have to pay medical bills for, we win, and county taxpayers win,” Richardson said.

Hancock County budgets roughly $200,000 every year to pay for inmate health care, and medical expenses at the jail have been under scrutiny lately as the county has faced high bills.

In December, the county received a $66,000 bill for rehabilitating an inmate who overdosed on drugs that had been smuggled in the jail; the bill was later reduced to $30,000. In January, a pregnant inmate was given a special exception to get out of jail without paying a bond in order to give birth. County officials had fretted over the high expense of a hospital birth.

Shepherd said it’s hard to tell how many local inmates will sign up for coverage in the next two weeks. Quality Correctional Care staff have already had an initial meeting with inmates this week on sign-ups, and Scroggins said more of the Indiana counties they serve might soon be asking for last-minute help in enrollment.

“It’s a buzz word right now among sheriffs and jail commanders,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk nationwide about the Affordable Care Act.”

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