Advocates say new inmate healthcare law will save counties money

By: Hilary Magacs Email
By: Hilary Magacs Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Advocates of a new law regarding healthcare for inmates said the legislation will save counties - and the state - a lot of money.

TennCare of Medicaid used to end upon incarceration - meaning taxpayers were required to pay inmates' medical bills while in jail. Lawmakers said when those inmates got out, it sometimes took as long as nine months for them to get back on their government health insurance plans. Without access to care or their medication, they said many would re-offend, costing local counties even more money.

The new law suspends an inmate's government healthcare plan instead of ending it - meaning federal funds will pay for their healthcare instead of passing the bill on to the state.

"That person doesn't walk out of that jail by himself, he walks out of that jail with some psychotherapist that's going to be working with him and helping him not to get back into the jail. That's where you spend your money, is bringing that person back over and over and over again," said Bill Nolan, a lobbyist for the law.

"The goal of this legislation is not only to save the local governments money, but to actually solve problems and enable folks that are inmates who might have a mental health issue or an addiction issue - for those dollars to go to treating them so that we don't see them back in the local facility again," said Terry Frank, Anderson County Mayor.

Tennessee is the 12th state to pass this type of law. Advocates said other states are saving millions of dollars because of it.

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