CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With Medicaid expanding to cover those who make up to about $15,000 a year, West Virginia could save millions of dollars over the next few years by using Medicaid funds for treating eligible inmates, a health policy analyst said.
Brandon Merritt, of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, estimates the state can save $20 million between 2014 and 2020 by using Medicaid to cover eligible inmates.
That projection is based on figures from the state Division of Corrections and the Regional Jail Authority, he said.
"It's one of those unheralded components of the [Affordable Care Act] that's really beneficial, and states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid are not going to see these savings," Merritt said. "We really feel that people need to be aware that there are so many aspects of the ACA that benefit our state and our state's bottom line."
Inmates are not eligible for Medicaid coverage while incarcerated because they're provided with medical care. This does not change under the Affordable Care Act.
An exception to that rule is that if the inmate has been treated in a facility outside the jail or prison for 24 hours or longer.
Currently, Medicaid provides health care to certain groups of people including children and pregnant women, as well as those with disabilities. Very few inmates are eligible currently, said Debbie Hissom, director of inmate health services for the Division of Corrections.
That changes in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, when the state's Medicaid program will cover those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line.
Under those guidelines, only a rare inmate who draws a pension or other retirement funds might be ineligible, Hissom said.
Under expansion, the federal government will foot 100 percent of the Medicaid costs for the first three years. After that, the federal match gradually will decline to 90 percent.