Reforms in Massachusetts have shown that health care access and usage improve when inmates are enrolled in Medicaid before release, a UMass Medical School correctional health expert told Stateline, a newspaper of The PEW Charitable Trusts.
“We thought they might access mental health and substance abuse treatment and didn’t think they would also access primary care, but in fact they did,” Warren Ferguson, MD, said in the June 11 article that focused on state efforts to connect prisoners with health care programs before they return to the community.
Dr. Ferguson is professor and vice chair of Family Medicine & Community Health at UMass Medical School and director of academic programs for its Health and Criminal Justice Program.
A study by Ferguson highlighted in the article revealed that when former inmates were enrolled in MassHealth, the Massachusetts Medicaid program, they used medical and behavioral health services more than other MassHealth members. The Massachusetts program calls for prisoners to be signed up for MassHealth prior to release. It also helps them find health care providers and clinics.
Former inmates could receive MassHealth benefits as part of an expanded Medicaid program that Massachusetts launched in 2006. Since then, other states have begun to implement similar programs.
The Health and Criminal Justice Program within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division focuses on research and scholarship; education; and service and consulting. It also runs the Academic Consortium on Criminal Justice Health, which hosts an international, interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed conference annually on criminal justice health and health policy.
The program’s consulting work involves managing contracts to provide health services for federal correctional institutions. Clients include the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Medical Centers in Devens, Massachusetts, and Butner, North Carolina, as well as its Federal Correctional Institutions in Ray Brook, New York, and Berlin, New Hampshire.