November 10, 2013

Obamacare could help released offenders

Bonnie Richardson, who was released in 2012 after spending time in prison and jail, now receives mental health care at Shalom Holistic Health Services in Stoughton.

Joseph W. Jackson III/WCIJ

Bonnie Richardson, who was released in 2012 after spending time in prison and jail, now receives mental health care at Shalom Holistic Health Services in Stoughton.

Main story

Mentally ill ex-inmates lack treatment, meds

State officials, advocates agree that reforms could cut recidivism.

Wisconsin inmates may soon have a better chance of getting health coverage, thanks to the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

“We feel optimistic that more released offenders will be eligible for Medicaid under the ACA,” said Dr. Kevin Kallas, mental health director for the state Department of Corrections. “It’s potentially a game changer for us.”

Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, all Wisconsin residents whose income falls below the poverty line will become eligible for BadgerCare Plus, Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. The 2013 poverty level for a household of two is $15,500 a year and $23,500 for a household of four.

Previously, eligibility in the program was determined not exclusively by income but by certain categories: disabled, elderly, children and guardians.

Kallas noted that people who have been incarcerated for long periods have little or no income. This means many offenders may qualify for BadgerCare.

Keisha Russell, founder of Infallible Helping Hands, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that advocates for female offenders, believes the Affordable Care Act might also benefit former offenders above the poverty line, by allowing them to obtain coverage through the health care exchanges.

But Russell worries that people exiting jail or prison who do not qualify for Medicaid might not be able to afford their monthly insurance payments.