- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma does not participate in a program that allows soon-to-be-released inmates to sign up for Medicaid health insurance before release.

Terri Watkins, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said there is “very little we can provide” to transitioning inmates because the state has opted not to expand its Medicaid program, The Oklahoman reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1XT5nxL ).

Under federal rules, inmates cannot access federal health care benefits while they are incarcerated. However, they can sign up for Medicaid 30 days before they are released so they will be covered when they get out.

Oklahoma is among 20 states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs under the new federal health care law. Expansion would add coverage options to low-income adults in addition to disabled Oklahoma residents, including those who are blind and deaf.

But state officials claim Oklahoma could not afford the expansion regardless of how much money the federal government provided.

The state Corrections Department spent $84.7 million on inmate medical costs last year and data suggests that a large percentage of offenders enter the prison system sick, injured or otherwise unhealthy after years of hard living and poor lifestyle choices.

An aging prison population is also a problem for Oklahoma’s prison system. More than 5,000 of Oklahoma’s prison inmates are at least 50 years old, Corrections Department data indicates.

In 2014, the agency spent $84.4 million on inmate health care costs. Expenses had remained relatively stagnant during the previous decade, ranging from $60 million to $71 million from 2005 through 2013.

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid in the state, does not have an agreement with the Corrections Department in which applications can be filled out early pending an inmate’s release, said Jennie Melendez, spokeswoman for the Health Care Authority.

“For most cases, we do have real-time enrollment, so there is not a lag time when a potential member applies online,” Melendez said. “We have been ahead of other states in this regard.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com


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