By Cherri Gregg

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Jails and prisons in several states are signing up inmates for health care, thanks to expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

And this initiative could come to Pennsylvania, too, if Gov. Corbett’s “Healthy Pennsylvania” plan is approved.

The perk only applies to inmates who are awaiting trial, who are in hospitals for more than 24 hours, or who are released.

“Getting our guys enrolled in expanded Medicaid is huge,” says Bill Hart, who runs the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services, which helps hundreds of former prisoners reintegrate into society each year.

Hart says his informal polling shows more than 90 percent of Philadelphia’s ex-offenders do not have health care, but Medicaid expansion in the state could mean tens of thousands will be able to get the services they need.

“If we can connect with them as soon as they hit the streets and provide and/or connect them with resources or services, my guys’ committing crimes go way down,” he says.

Dr. Bruce Herdman, chief of medical operations for the Philadelphia Prison System, sees similar benefits.

“Fifteen percent of the people here are seriously mentally ill,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “If they’re medicated, chances are they are not going to come back.”  He says Philadelphia releases more than 37,000 prisoners each year and most do not currently qualify for medical assistance in Pennsylvania.

“MA (medical assistance) usually covers women with children,” he notes.  “Some of the women here qualify, but very few of the men qualify.  They may be able to qualify if we get expanded coverage here in Pennsylvania.”

Herdman says disabled inmates and those with mental illness qualify, but providing more coverage would save the state and counties millions.

“It would lower the population here (in prison) and of course the costs would go down substantionally,” he says, adding that mental health and substance abuse treatment lowers recidivism rates significantly.

Opponents say providing inmate coverage simply adds to taxpayer burden.

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