Inmate healthcare can eat up a corrections budget. When an inmate is held in custody the facility is responsible for most of the medical bills. Medicaid will pay for some of costs, under certain conditions. That knowledge led to at least one sheriff to engage in what many call unprofessional behavior.
“In Oklahoma a sheriff is under fire for allegedly releasing and abandoning inmates with medical problems so as not to be responsible for the medical expenses of certain ailing inmates. NewsOK reports that Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is accused of “unlawful abandonment of patients.” Inmate health care eats up a huge portion of corrections budgets, but OKNews writes that attorneys for one of the hospitals used as a dumping ground by Sheriff Whetsel claim “The county and the sheriff have developed a practice of ... purporting to ‘release' inmates from custody before, and even after transporting them to the hospital, and then deny liability for the necessary medical care by saying the inmate is no longer in the county's custody” (see Reentry Central May 1, 2013).
Although Whetsal seems to have taken unfair advantage of the Medicaid system, most states do not use it to their own rightful advantage.
Stateline, the news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts, reports that only a handful of states apply for Medicaid benefits for their inmates. Stateline writes:
“Right now, in most states, only prisoners who are pregnant, disabled or aged are eligible for Medicaid coverage when they need outside medical attention.
But most states and localities don’t bother to seek Medicaid reimbursement for that limited class of prisoners, an omission that deprives them of millions of dollars in potential federal reimbursement. It’s not the inmates themselves but rather the states and localities that are the beneficiaries of the federal Medicaid reimbursement.
So far, only Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington and some scattered local governments are tapping Medicaid to pay for inpatient medical and nursing home care. A few more states are looking into it, including Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Virginia.”
Until January, when the Affordable Care Act commences and the majority of inmates will be covered, states are losing millions of dollars by not seeking funds for inmates who are eligible for Medicaid coverage.