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New program aims to help Maricopa County inmates get health coverage

PHOENIX — A new partnership between Maricopa County, the state of Arizona and various non-profit organizations is allowing inmates to apply for health insurance before being released from prison.

Inmates that are in the Maricopa County Sheriff Office’s substance abuse treatment program, ALPHA, can apply for Medicaid a few weeks before they actually leave jail through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Then, if the inmate is approved for coverage by the state Department of Economic Security, they can leave prison with health insurance.

The county is partnering with Keogh Health Connection and Enroll America to provide inmates with insurance.

Since the program started in November, 95 inmates have qualified for Medicaid upon their release, Jennifer Hawkins, Maricopa County’s healthcare integration administrator, said.

“When (the inmates) leave jail, they go back to reality,” she said. “They now can take themselves and they can take their children to the doctor instead of running to the emergency room any time there’s an issue.”

Hawkins said the inmates who make it to the end of the ALPHA program are forward-thinkers. For those who get a place to live and a job upon release from prison, health insurance is just another part of that reentrance into society.

“It’s just another tool for these individuals to live healthy lives in recovery,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said some inmates in the ALPHA program were so overwhelmed by the chance to apply for health insurance that they broke down in tears.

John Earle is one recent ALPHA graduate who is grateful for the new program.

“I’m walking out there. I’m enrolled in school. I’ve got a place to live. I’ve got health insurance. It’s wonderful,” Earle said.

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