Opinion | Prison spokesman: Guest column wrong about inmate medical care

Chris Gautz is the spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Last week Bridge Magazine published a guest column titled “Michigan restricts inmates’ Medicaid access. Here's why we should care.”

I think we should care about facts and that column was largely devoid of them. Anyone who read that column would leave with a fundamental misunderstanding of what goes on in this state and in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Michigan is a national leader when it comes to corrections and criminal justice reform, and the more than 13,000 women and men who work for the MDOC spend every day bettering the lives of those they supervise in order to make this state a safer and healthier place to live.

Our healthcare and facility staff provide medical care to prisoners across this state and as a department we understand and appreciate the solemn duty to care for all those under our supervision. The MDOC spends roughly $300 million annually on prisoner healthcare, ranging from routine physicals, all the way to dialysis and chemotherapy treatments.

To be clear, Michigan does not restrict Medicaid access to prisoners. Federal law does not allow it.

The guest column is based on the incorrect premise that Michigan, or any state, can make the federal government pay for the healthcare of state prisoners by having them placed on Medicaid

The column asks the question, “Why do we continue to exclude Michigan’s inmates from our Medicaid program?”

The answer can be found by clicking the link the author included in her column from the Kaiser Family Foundation that states; “federal law prohibits Medicaid payment for most health care services provided to individuals while incarcerated.” 

Again, there is no benefit to signing up a prisoner for Medicaid while they are incarcerated because the federal government will not pay for their medical care while in state prison. The only way Medicaid provides any payment is if the prisoner is sent to an off-site hospital and admitted for inpatient treatment.

The Pew Charitable Trusts put out a paper in 2016 praising Michigan as one of four states that were early adopters of this and showed that in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 Michigan saw the most savings of any of those states with $19 million in medical costs covered by Medicaid. 

There are great benefits though for assisting prisoners with Medicaid enrollment as they are set to parole. Since Michigan chose to expand Medicaid, we have been helping paroling prisoners complete this paperwork so all they have to do upon release is walk into their local DHHS office and turn on their Medicaid benefits. In some MDOC parole offices, including those in Detroit, we actually have DHHS caseworkers inside our parole office so after they have their first meeting with their agent the day they get out of prison, we walk them down the hall and to have their Medicaid benefits turned on.

We would invite Ms. Reed to visit this office to see the process herself and talk to the staff involved in helping parolees gain access to healthcare on the outside.

Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act and Healthy Michigan, the number of paroling prisoners receiving Medicaid would have been next to zero. But because of the hard work of our staff and this legislation, tens of thousands of returning citizens have healthcare. 

In the 2019 fiscal year alone, we successfully helped 7,343 individuals get their Medicaid applications approved upon release from prison. 

Lastly, the author incorrectly and grossly mischaracterized the mission of the MDOC as one that addresses crime through punitive sanctions and that department leaders want to “punish offenders.”

On Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” program earlier this year, MDOC Director Heidi Washington said in a wide-ranging interview that people are sentenced to prison as punishment for the crime they committed, but that they “don’t come to prison for punishment.” 

Our goal is to make the prison environment they enter one that is productive, that allows them opportunities to better educate themselves, learn job skills and help them to find employment, stable housing and healthcare before they are released.

Prison only offers short-term public safety. While behind bars, the public is safe from those the courts have sent to us. But long-term public safety is our true goal and that is only accomplished when those who leave prison do so as better people than when they came to us and are equipped with the skills and mindset necessary to be successful in the community.

That is our true mission.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron FrenchClick here for details and submission guidelines.

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Kevin Grand
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 7:15am

"The spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections notes major fact errors in a column by a Bridge guest writer pushing for prisoners to receive access to Medicaid. The original column was removed from the site."

Now, I see why The Bridge likes to scrub/block my comments.

Strange actions for a "data-driven" website?

A quick check of the links that I provide make short work on many of the opinions posted.

Monica Williams
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 8:14am


We welcome your comments and feedback. We don't typically scrub or block comments, unless they are in foreign languages or obscene. If you think your comments aren't being published, please let us know. 

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 10:29am

Perpetually aggrieved. No one has ever scrubbed your trash comments, Kevin. Look elsewhere for your persecution complex

Kevin Grand
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 12:37pm

Hardly, Bones.

I wasn't aware that The Bridge made.you a moderator in the comment section?

But, just in case anyone was curious, the previous blocked post, which was on the latest story regarding the Gov. Whitmer-caused budget debacle, DID.include the video of then Candidate Whitmer laughing off the comment that she would raise taxes to "Fix the damn roads" and called the mere mention "ridiculous".

Unfortunately, everyone now knows what her plan was all along.

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 9:57am

Oh no ! Taxes to pay for our crumbling infrastructure. The horror!

Kevin Grand
Tue, 12/17/2019 - 2:03pm

Let me break this down so that even you won't have a problem following it, Bones.

If Gretchen Wbitmer had the honesty and integrity to tell Michigan Voters before the last Gubernatorial Election that her plan all along was to sock Michigan Motorists with a 45-cents/gallon gas tax hike (this is on top of the state and federal gas taxes which we already pay), would she be sitting in the Governor's Office today?

jon swanson
Tue, 12/17/2019 - 5:44pm

It should be 75 cents. If you want to have decent infrastructure you have to pay.

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 1:31pm

Dear Kevin, I believe you need a break. Try a long, long vacation on an island. Take lots of strolls on the beach. Watch the swells and gentle roll of the surf. Listen to the soft surges and then the ebbs of the waves. They can lift and cool your spirit. Feel the gentle, warming trade breeze on your whole body. Get up early to see the sun rise or, in the early evening, watch her settle into the horizon for a goodnight’s rest. Then watch a sky full of darkness transform as the stars begin to shine showing us the magnificence of our universe. You should be ready for a long-overdue good night of rest. And it’s your choice Kevin — to be with other people or not. On the beach, you can shout at the waves instead of other people — or the hard working professionals at Bridge. You’ll find it’s a good place for you to use your voice. If you decide to comeback to the mainland, hopefully you should be relaxed, more calm.
Peace, bro! And hug too — if you’re ready.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 12/17/2019 - 6:53am

I appreciate your concern, PC. But to be honest here, you're proceeding from a false premise.

I've spent the past several weekends spending time with my family and friends leading up to the holiday. And before you come to yet another mistaken conclusion, it's not the rolling of the eyes...not this time of year again time attitude like the plot device for some bad Netflix/Hallmark movie which is easily found during this time of year. I look forward to seeing how other parts of the Michigan celebrate the Christmas Season.

That been said, Merry Christmas!

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 9:28am

Little to be known that John Engler wife own the company that runs the medical with a 1000% over run and the inmate get very little medical help for the cost that SHE is charging the state>>>>>>

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 10:09am

Please remember all the ill women at the women's prison outside of Ypsilanti because of mold infestation the place for years with no real remediation. And that is a job well done by the Dept. of Corrections? The Dept. needs to clean up its act though I have no idea if the private medical provider has any hand in that. Oh, but the women prisoners need to be diagnosed and treated. Is that happening?
Perhaps Gautz and his bosses should work to clean up that prison.

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 10:21am

"13,000 women and men who work for the MDOC spend every day bettering the lives of those they supervise in order to make this state a safer and healthier place to live."

The key word here is "supervise". Criminals need supervision. It can take different forms.

The most expensive form of supervision is prison, on average, $35,000 a year cost to taxpayers.

Parole is a form a supervision that generally works well while the criminal remains under supervision and costs much less than incarceration.

Probation, like parole, can also work well while the criminal is under supervision.

Tether is a form of supervision that can work well.

Day reporting and work camps during days off work and while unemployed can work well for criminals.

Random home inspections and random substance abuse testing can be a very good supervision technique for criminals.

The key is supervision. It's not a one size fits all situation. In some cases long term incarceration is the only viable answer, but his is rare. We use the most expensive supervision option, incarceration, too often and for too long.

The key is supervision. Every criminal should remain under supervision until that criminal's maximum sentence has elapsed.

Jim Talen
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 7:09pm

I was also surprised at the factual error about Medicaid in prisons. We deal with the problem all the time in county jails and both the National Association of Counties and the National Sheriff's Association are working to change the national exclusion policy, especially for the many people who are in jail (not prison) waiting for trial or to see a judge. Thank you for publishing the counter-opinion and taking down the original post.
Jim Talen
Kent County Commissioner

Mon, 12/16/2019 - 8:22pm

US News and World Report 2019 ranks Michigan 35th out of 50 for Crime and Correction, based on quality and fairness of their prison systems, including racial bias, etc. That's nothing to be proud of...but the Governor's Task Force is working on it.

Jim Talen
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 10:18pm

Hi Kate, I just want to clarify that I think the Governor's Task Force that you are referring to is about jails, not prisons. Hopefully, if some of the recommendations are implemented by the legislature, there will eventually be a positive effect on prisons. But the focus is on reducing the jail population, especially for people who are there because they are poor or mentally ill. I'm on the task force and the data that we're seeing is pretty disturbing.

Ken N
Wed, 12/18/2019 - 11:06am

I retired after over 28 yrs of MDOC custody and security service and have never found the MDOC to be neglectful in the area of healthcare in the facilities I have been employed. In fact, I've actually seen the opposite, as staff, oftentimes, go above and beyond what would be considered necessary. For someone to wrongfully claim otherwise is just plain irresponsible.