Top House Republicans now want to know whether the new health care law’s expansion of the Medicaid program will include prisoners, adding a wrinkle to GOP complaints that President Obama’s health overhaul is unfit for implementation.
Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and health subcommittee chairman Joseph Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, signed a letter to Comptroller Gene L. Dodaro on Wednesday that raises concerns about incarcerated persons benefitting from Obamacare.
Their concerns are based on a recent webinar from the Center for Health Care Strategies, which said about 6 to 7 million prisoners would qualify for the provision of the Affordable Care Act that extends the Medicaid entitlement to those earning 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That amounts to nearly one third of those who would likely enroll under the expansion, according to the presentation.
The health care law exempts incarcerated people from complying with the individual mandate requiring most Americans to obtain some form of health insurance, but Republican staff says inmates can avail themselves of inpatient treatment if they otherwise would be Medicaid-eligible out of jail.
“We believe the data reinforce our concerns that [the health care law] diverted the Medicaid program from its original intent to serve the nation’s most vulnerable populations including children, pregnant women, individuals with disabilities and low-income seniors,” the letter said. “The Medicaid program is already struggling to meet the health care needs of our poorest and sickest Americans. We must better understand the true costs of expanding the program to any new population and weigh such costs with the competing interesting of our nation’s most vulnerable law-abiding citizens.”
The Supreme Court said in June 2012 that states can opt not to expand Medicaid without risking existing federal funds for the program. About half the state have opted to expand, citing the social and economic benefits of having the federal government pick up 100 percent of the tab for the expanded population in 2014-2016 before the federal contribution scales back to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.