Uncle Sam would pay prison inmate care
BY World's Editorials Writers
Saturday, October 20, 2012
10/20/12 at 4:17 AM
Some state officials, led by Gov. Mary Fallin, are reluctant to commit to the law of the land - Obamacare - until after the Nov. 6 election. Likewise, the Department of Corrections hasn't yet announced a decision on whether it would accept - under the Affordable Care Act - Medicaid funding that would pay 100 percent of the cost of inmate care.
Texas says it won't accept the federal dollars. Maybe Texas can afford to turn down money. But can Oklahoma do the same, and why should it refuse the money? In fiscal 2012, DOC spent $13 million on hospital bills for inmates. Under the new federal law, nearly all of those costs would be paid by Medicaid starting in 2014, says DOC spokesman Jerry Massie, who cited a recent DOC analysis.
With more than 25,000 inmates behind bars, and one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates in the nation, Oklahoma spends a lot on prisons and has for the past 40 years. Inmates aren't always in the best health. With its tough 85-percent rule requiring certain offenders to serve most of their sentence before being eligible for release, inmates are staying in prison longer and therefore growing old there. The geriatric-age prison population is growing rapidly and with aging, coupled with a poor health history, come health problems.
Already, some older, blind and disabled inmates qualify for Medicaid-funded hospitalization. The change would make the eligibility almost universal in the prison system.
If elected president, Mitt Romney has vowed that he would fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Congress probably would go along with him if Republicans dominate both the House and Senate.
Inmate care is an expensive proposition. If most of that cost could be shifted to the federal government, Oklahoma tax dollars might be freed up for other programs such as education and infrastructure. DOC is wise to take a wait-and-see approach and not to refuse the money quickly like Texas apparently has done.
Original Print Headline: Take the deal?
Texas says it won't accept federal money from the Affordable Care Act to pay for inmate health care costs, but Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has yet to say if Oklahoma will refuse the funds. NATE BILLINGS/The Oklahoman file