Implementing a Prison Medicaid Enrollment Program for Inmates with a Community Inpatient Hospitalization

J Urban Health. 2018 Apr;95(2):149-158. doi: 10.1007/s11524-017-0132-7.


In 2011, North Carolina (NC) created a program to facilitate Medicaid enrollment for state prisoners experiencing community inpatient hospitalization during their incarceration. The program, which has been described as a model for prison systems nationwide, has saved the NC prison system approximately $10 million annually in hospitalization costs and has potential to increase prisoners' access to Medicaid benefits as they return to their communities. This study aims to describe the history of NC's Prison-Based Medicaid Enrollment Assistance Program (PBMEAP), its structure and processes, and program personnel's perspectives on the challenges and facilitators of program implementation. We conducted semi-structured interviews and a focus group with PBMEAP personnel including two administrative leaders, two "Medicaid Facilitators," and ten social workers. Seven major findings emerged: 1) state legislation was required to bring the program into existence; 2) the legislation was prompted by projected cost savings; 3) program development required close collaboration between the prison system and state Medicaid office; 4) technology and data sharing played key roles in identifying inmates who previously qualified for Medicaid and would likely qualify if hospitalized; 5) a small number of new staff were sufficient to make the program scalable; 6) inmates generally cooperated in filling out Medicaid applications, and their cooperation was encouraged when social workers explained possible benefits of receiving Medicaid after release; and 7) the most prominent program challenges centered around interaction with county Departments of Social Services, which were responsible for processing applications. Our findings could be instructive to both Medicaid non-expansion and expansion states that have either implemented similar programs or are considering implementing prison Medicaid enrollment programs in the future.

Keywords: Access; Healthcare; Medicaid; Prison; Prisoners; Program evaluation; Social workers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Community Health Centers / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / economics*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Medicaid / organization & administration*
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prisons / organization & administration*
  • Social Work / organization & administration*
  • United States