Changes to state's Medicaid could cover ex-offenders

Published 11/04 2013 04:04PM

Updated 11/04 2013 06:47PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Inmates released from prison in Illinois could qualify for healthcare coverage. It's thanks to a change the state made to expand the Medicaid system. WCIA-3's Steve Staeger keeps us Connected to the Capitol.

Medicaid used to only be available to low-income children, pregnant women and adults with disabilities. Now the program is expanded to all low-income adults. Since newly-released inmates have no income when they're let out, 30,000 former inmates could now qualify.

"I was in for murder. I was a gang-banger from the streets of Chicago."

Lorenzo Louden spent decades of his life inside the walls of a state prison. But, he says the first days of life on the outside were some of the most challenging.

"Getting out, the first job I had, no benefits. The second job I had, no benefits, so anything I had to pay for medically would come out of pocket."

He says a simple illness would cost an entire paycheck. It's a problem many ex-offenders still face today.

"It costs and they can't afford it. And so now they're stuck."

But, that soon may change for many former Illinois inmates. The Department of Corrections says parolees may now qualify for Medicaid thanks to a recent expansion of the program. It's an expansion which has critics, but advocates say, it's worth the cost.

"It's going to be passed on somewhere down the line, but if we, as citizens want these people to come out and do the right thing, that little cost that we might have to eat in the long run, is invaluable if we're going to keep them from going back and doing crime."

Louden doesn't need the insurance anymore, but he knows people who might. After getting back on his feet and starting a business, Louden formed a non-profit helping other ex-offenders adjust to life in the real world. He says this move will make his mission a little easier.

"I look at it as, down the line, what is this going to do for these individuals who are turning their lives around? Now they're not down in the street snatching somebody's purse or breaking into somebody's house because they have a job."

Advocates say this could help former inmates who struggle with addiction. Many can't afford treatment outside prison, then they slide back into their former habits and end up back behind bars.

This Medicaid expansion plan has plenty of critics in the state. They say the expansion will cost the state too much, especially at a time when Illinois is struggling to pay its bills.

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