Addressing the health of incarcerated populations is a necessary step in reducing U.S. health disparities. Many of the same socioeconomic, behavioral, and community-level risk factors that place one at risk for imprisonment also are associated with risk for poor health. Accordingly, former prisoners have a disproportionately high prevalence of chronic and disabling health conditions and, unsurprisingly, suffer excessively high rates of all-cause mortality. With 700,000 prisoners released annually, the health of these individuals has a pervasive effect on the health of the communities and families to which they return. The transition from prison back to the community is particularly difficult an is considerably more challenging for those with severe and chronic health conditions, most of whom have no health insurance. Medicaid is an important source of health care coverage for the impoverished and among low-income populations and has been shown to increase use of routine healthcare and improve self-reported health outcomes. While released prisoners with severe and chronic health conditions may be eligible for Medicaid, enrollment depends on their successful navigation of an application process that is both difficult and time consuming;as a result, enrollment is relatively uncommon. Nearly all state prison systems have interpreted federal Medicaid policies as mandating the termination of Medicaid benefits upon incarceration and prohibiting Medicaid enrollment during incarceration, thus creating additional barriers to Medicaid enrollment. In recent years, however, top federal Medicaid administrators have clarified that prisoners may enroll in Medicaid during incarceration, albeit only to pay for inpatient healthcare provided outside of the prison system (e.g., a community hospital). In response to this clarification, about 1/3 of state prison systems have created programs to facilitate prisoner enrollment into Medicaid. Importantly, prisoners enrolled in Medicaid during their incarceration can resume their Medicaid coverage immediately upon reentering the community. Therefore, prison-based Medicaid enrollment assistance programs (PBMEAPs) may play a pivotal role in prisoners'post-release access to health services and, consequently, their health. Moreover, in North Carolina (NC) and the 24 other Medicaid non-expansion states, PBMEAPs will be one of the best opportunities for prison-involved persons with chronic health conditions to enroll in Medicaid. Despite the potential impact of these programs, even basic evaluations of PBMEAPs have yet to be conducted. In this application, we have proposed a mixed methods approach to examine the effectiveness and the cost implications of the PBMEAP in the NC prison system. We will examine prisoners'rate of Medicaid enrollment, their post-release outcomes, and their attitudes about healthcare access. We will also examine the program's cost-savings for the prison system and factors that affect program performance. Our findings will provide state policy makers, prison officials, and Medicaid administrators with a data-driven understanding of the program's effectiveness and its impact on healthcare access and health.

Public Health Relevance

Prison-based Medicaid enrollment assistance programs (PBMEAPs) have the potential to improve access to healthcare for prisoners upon their release. Our evaluation of the NC prison system's PBMEAP will provide policy-makers, prison officials, and Medicaid administrators in NC and other states with a data-driven understanding of the impact of this program on healthcare access and health, and will help prison administrators evaluate and improve their program. If found to be effective, adoption of PBMEAPs among other state prison systems could have a profound effect on diminishing health disparities experienced by released prisoners, one of the most underserved segments of US society

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZMD1-DRI (01))
Program Officer
Alvidrez, Jennifer L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code
Rosen, David L; Grodensky, Catherine A; Miller, Anna R et al. (2018) Implementing a Prison Medicaid Enrollment Program for Inmates with a Community Inpatient Hospitalization. J Urban Health 95:149-158