Do Prisoners Get Health Insurance?

In the United States, prisoners are entitled to receive healthcare while incarcerated. However, the specifics of their health insurance coverage may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of their confinement. Generally, prisoners receive medical care through government-funded correctional healthcare systems, which are responsible for providing necessary healthcare services.

Exploring the Availability of Health Insurance for Prisoners

Prisoners have a constitutional right to access healthcare while incarcerated, but the quality and type of care can vary greatly depending on the state, county, and facility. In some cases, inmates may have to pay for their medical treatment. Once released, prisoners may qualify for healthcare coverage through Medicaid or the Health Insurance Marketplace, depending on their income level.

However, they cannot enroll in private health insurance plans while still incarcerated. Some states offer incarcerated individuals the option to enroll in Medicaid while in jail or prison, which may help them access necessary care more quickly upon release. The availability of healthcare and health insurance for prisoners is an important issue that impacts the well-being of an often overlooked segment of our population.

Understanding the Current State of Prison Healthcare

With over two million people behind bars in the United States, it’s important to understand the current state of healthcare for prisoners. Here are some facts to know about healthcare options for incarcerated individuals:

  • For those currently serving time in prison, there are limited options for health insurance coverage. Private insurance plans cannot be purchased while incarcerated.
  • However, upon release, prisoners may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to purchase private insurance through the Marketplace.
  • Medicaid is not available for medical care while someone is in prison, but enrolling in Medicaid while incarcerated can help provide access to care more quickly upon release.
  • State Medicaid policies may impact incarcerated individuals’ decisions to apply for Medicaid, including whether all adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level are eligible and whether prisoners can stay enrolled while incarcerated.
  • All prisoners have access to healthcare services, including mental health care, regardless of their custody level or security classification. Health screenings are scheduled annually for each prisoner, and a DNA sample is taken.
  • Prisoners can request routine healthcare services through a Health Care Request form, and those in need of mental health care are provided with appropriate treatment and support.

Role of Health Insurance in Improving Prison Healthcare

Do prisoners get health insurance? The answer is yes, but with certain limitations. Incarcerated individuals cannot use the marketplace to buy a private insurance plan. However, they can apply for coverage through the Medicaid program. Although Medicaid won’t pay for their medical care while in prison or jail, it may help them get necessary care more quickly after their release. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage expansions, particularly the Medicaid expansion, provide new opportunities to increase health coverage for low-income adults transitioning into and out of the criminal justice system.

The adult criminal justice-involved population includes individuals with significant physical and mental health needs who face economic and social challenges. The ACA may contribute to improvements in their ability to access care, greater stability in their lives, and reduced recidivism rates. Having health insurance can play a vital role in improving prison healthcare and ultimately affect an individual’s overall physical and mental well-being.

Different Types of Health Insurance Programs Available

Do prisoners get health insurance? The answer is yes, but with some restrictions. Here are the different types of health insurance programs available for incarcerated individuals:

  • Firstly, while incarcerated, individuals are not able to use the Marketplace to buy private insurance plans. However, if they are pending disposition of charges, they may still be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
  • Secondly, after release from incarceration, individuals may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period for up to 60 days to sign up for private health coverage. During this time, they can enroll in private health insurance, even if it’s outside the Marketplace Open Enrollment Period.
  • Finally, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage expansions, particularly the Medicaid expansion, may provide opportunities to increase health coverage for this population. It may contribute to improvements in their ability to access care, greater stability in their lives, and reduced recidivism rates.

Coverage and Benefits Offered by Prison Health Insurance

  • Prisons and jails are correctional facilities that provide health care services for inmates and detainees.
  • The level of coverage and benefits offered by prison health insurance varies by state and facility, but generally includes basic medical care, mental health services, and prescription medications.
  • Inmates can receive emergency medical treatment, and those with chronic conditions can receive ongoing care.
  • Dental care, however, is generally limited to emergency services and extractions.
  • Inmates can access healthcare through on-site medical clinics or by being transported to outside medical facilities.
  • Health care services are typically provided by contractors, rather than directly by the prison administration or staff.
  • Costs for medical care are generally covered by the prison health insurance, and inmates are not responsible for co-pays or deductibles.
  • In some cases, family members can purchase supplemental health insurance for their incarcerated loved ones.
  • Access to health care is an important issue for inmates, given that the prison environment can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions or lead to new health issues.
  • Challenges to providing health care in prisons include limited resources, the need for transportation, and the possibility of violence or security threats during transport.

The Impact of Health Insurance on Prisoner Healthcare

Health insurance coverage has a significant impact on the healthcare of prisoners. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides an opportunity for low-income inmates to get medical coverage through Medicaid expansion. However, incarcerated individuals cannot use the ACA to buy private insurance plans. After release, they have a 60-day Special Enrollment Period to sign up for private health coverage. Medicaid won’t pay for medical care while prisoners are incarcerated, but they may enroll in Medicaid while in prison to receive needed care after their release.

Whether inmates can stay enrolled in Medicaid while serving their sentence depends on state policies. The criminal justice system includes a range of types of correctional facilities, such as prisons that house felons and jails that house individuals awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences. Millions of people interact with the correctional system annually, and 4.8 million adults are under community supervision. Improved access to healthcare could reduce recidivism rates among the adult criminal justice-involved population.


The American prison system houses a large population that often lacks access to healthcare. The Affordable Care Act provides opportunities for low-income adult prisoners to receive healthcare coverage, potentially leading to improved access to care, stability in their lives, and a decrease in recidivism rates. While prisons house longer-term felons or those serving over a year, jails primarily hold individuals awaiting trial or serving shorter sentences. Community-based corrections include probation, parole, and halfway houses that often impose strict conditions.


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