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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Lawmakers will be asked to provide health coverage for post-incarcerated, as part of Justice Reinvestment

A subset of Idaho’s health coverage gap population is of particular concern to the state’s Justice Reinvestment project, state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told lawmakers today: Those just emerging from prison, on probation or parole. Eighty percent of that population has a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder, and high numbers have chronic disease. They get treatment while they’re in prison, but lose coverage the instant they’re free.

“We are being asked to put forward some proposals to deal with the post-incarcerated population, and we are going to be, and that decision unit will be going forward,” Armstrong said. “We are working on the final numbers now. Because we think that is a pressing need. Certainly all the folks in the Justice Reinvestment group think that needs to be addressed. So that will be one of the things that we are moving forward.”

The proposal would be completely state-funded and separate from Medicaid, he said. Current estimates suggest it would cover 5,600 people and cost $10.5 million a year.

Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, noted Idaho’s 43 percent recidivism rate – the number of those who end up returning to prison after they’re released. “What do you think would be the population being returned to prison because of lack of health care, (that) we missed the boat on not being able to provide them?” she asked.

Armstrong said he didn’t have an estimate. “It would be part of the Justice Reinvestment report. … I don’t know if that exists,” he said. “But it’s clearly part of it.”

Asked after his presentation why he’ll be proposing the coverage plan for the post-incarceration population next year rather than including it with Medicaid expansion proposals, Armstrong said, “It’s a pressing need.” Sadly, he said, “Lumping it under Medicaid expansion means that we may never address it.” If it were enacted next year, he said, and some form of Medicaid expansion were to follow in the future, the state-funded program for the post-incarcerated would no longer be needed. “It would go away,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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