- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2014

Counties in six states facing budget shortfalls have turned to their prison populations as a means of saving some quick cash — by putting as many inmates on Obamacare as possible and tapping into federal funds for their health care.

The move — taking place in local jurisdictions in at least six states — is angering some Republicans, who see it as a taxpayer drain and simultaneous boost to Obamacare enrollment numbers that will then be spun by the administration to show American support for the health care plan, The Daily Mail reported.

“We just found out that Obamacare is going to cost $2 trillion over 10 years,” one aide to a Republicans senator told MailOnline. “Now we’re going to have local governments picking our pockets to pay for their jail inmates? What a disgrace. It makes you wonder, when the president gets excited about enrolling a few million people, how many of them are criminals?”

Obamacare expressly prohibits the enrollment of inmates who are serving full-time sentences behind bars. But there’s a loophole regarding prisoners who are still awaiting trial. And those are the prisoners that the counties are targeting. The Daily Mail reported that the jails are actually enrolling these inmates onto Obamacare to provide them with after-jail addiction counseling and other mental and behavioral therapies, in order to lower recidivism rates.

“This provision will likely allow eligible inmates who are pending disposition of charges to enroll in a health insurance plan through their state insurance exchange prior to conviction,” said Correctional Risk Inc., a criminal justice consulting group, to The Daily Mail.

Bloomberg reported that almost 7 million were jailed, paroled or given probation in the United States at the end of 2012. Meanwhile, about 13 million are processed through county jails each year, The Daily Mail said.

Cities are getting into the act, too. San Francisco’s asked supervisors to enroll inmates, estimating that the move would save local taxpayers $2,500 per inmate. Other counties estimate that between 70 and 80 percent of their prison populations will be eligible for Obamacare enrollment, The Daily Mail said. And Cook County, Ill., has already enrolled 2,000 inmates onto the federal health plan.

But even Democrats see the move as problematic.

“It starts to look a little like a scheme by the states and local jurisdictions to avoid responsibilities that are really theirs,” said one former Democrat senator, who said in Bloomberg that Obamacare wasn’t really intended to provide for inmates who are supposed to be covered by local governments.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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