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Obamacare Website Encourages the Incarcerated to Enroll in Medicaid

7:19 AM, Feb 24, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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Nearly five months after the launch of Healthcare.gov, the federal government's flagship Obamacare exchange added a new informational page aimed at a captive audience: the incarcerated.  The new page, which went live with little fanfare over the weekend, is designed to tell those currently serving sentences in prison or jail all they need to know about the Obamacare marketplace. Although private insurance may not be purchased through the insurance exchanges by such individuals, the website may be used to apply for Medicaid.  While Medicaid will not pay the cost of care while incarcerated, those seeking coverage are told that signing up now "may help you get needed care more quickly after you’re released."

The page is entitled "What do incarcerated people need to know about the Marketplace?"  Only those serving sentences upon conviction are considered incarcerated for purposes of the Marketplace, not those locked up pending disposition of charges.  Those on probation, on parole, or in home confinement are not included either.  The medical care of incarcerated individuals is provided by the government institution in whose custody those individuals are held, so Medicaid and private insurance are unnecessary. But those seeking information about Medicaid at Healthcare.gov are encouraged to get a step ahead in preparation for eventual release, as the following partial screenshot shows:

Incarcerated individuals interested in preemptive enrollment are cautioned that state rules regarding Medicaid may impact their situations:

Additional information is provided as well:

  • Although the incarcerated may not use the Marketplace to buy private insurance, they have 60 days upon release to purchase a plan, even if the time falls outside the normal open enrollment period.
  • Those held on charges but not yet convicted may use the Marketplace for private insurance.
  • The incarcerated are not subject to the individual mandate and will not have to pay the penalty that "some others without insurance must pay beginning in 2014."

According to the latest survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Correctional Populations in the United States, there were 2,228,400 persons in the custody of state or federal prisons during 2012.  Many jurisdictions now allow limited, supervised Internet access by those in jail or prison.

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