How the Affordable Care Act Makes our Community Safer

fo_grad_sept13Today is the 5th Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and in it’s honor many hours will be spent discussing the gains and pitfalls of this act.

At the same time a group of local volunteers with Friends Outside will quietly go about their work to implement the ACA with some of the most health vulnerable in our community in the hopes of lowering our community crime rate and corrections costs.

Everyday volunteers and staff from the Volunteer Center program Friends Outside are actively working to improve the lives of men and women who are currently incarcerated or trying to re-establish themselves in the community. They are on the front lines in our local jails and at community spaces helping these individuals devise a road-map for success  in order to reduce the rate of return to jail.

Friends Outside provides a range of in-custody and post release support services all in the interest of eliminating personal and community barriers that deter individuals from rebuilding their lives.   Last year these volunteers provided nearly 6,000 hours of client support and more than 1800 jail visits for 2,546 inmates, post release clients or their families.

In their daily work, they see first hand the complexity of issues that men and women within the correctional system are struggling with.

One of those primary struggles is health and wellness.

National statistics tell us that men and women coming through the correctional system have a higher prevalence for behavioral health disorders and chronic or infectious diseases than the general public. As many as 65% have a history of mental health challenges.

Locally, many former inmates lack health insurance or the financial means to purchase services such as preventative care visits, counseling, or needed medicines and without assistance from programs like Friends Outside many don’t know how to navigate the healthcare system to get their needs met, leaving them more vulnerable to coping strategies which ultimately land them back in jail.

That is until recently when California opened the door to free and subsidized healthcare through the provisions in the Affordable Care Act.  In 2014, California shifted Medi-Cal eligibility to be solely determined by income, allowing persons between 18 and 64 to qualify without any other determining factors. While Medi-Cal is still not available to those in custody they can hit the ground running with health care options by filling out the application before leaving jail.

Santa Cruz County Health Services has partnered with Friends Outside to ensure this crucial continuum of care step is taken and together they have set a goal of enrolling 1,200 individuals involved with the criminal justice system.  Friends Outside volunteers  have begun working with inmates who are within 30 days of release to complete their Medi-Cal applications. They additionally provide enrollment services for probationers and family members of those in the criminal justice system.

In order to meet the needs of those enrolling, volunteers meet with inmates one-on-one, offer informational classes at all of the jail facilities, and hold weekly office hours at the Probation Department.

Why should this matter to you as a community member?

Research from various states supports the finding that when individuals have access to affordable health care we see a decrease in admission to hospitals and emergency rooms and a reduction in the number of offenders returning to jail for new crimes.

At a rate of $85 a  day for a stay in our county jails, every effective action step we take towards reducing the number of inmates means we have the ability to spend tax dollars differently.

Learn More about Friends Outside

Want to learn more about the impacts of providing health care to inmates?

• Check out the briefing from the National Conference for State Legislatures
• Read the PBS New Hour Segment on Inmate Health Care and the ACA

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