Skip to content
Photo by Andrew Harnik/​The Associated Press

New York — Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced a grant to a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School to study the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) impact on public safety.

The project will examine innovative programs focused on providing formerly incarcerated individuals with access to medical, behavioral health, and social services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Our aim is to identify possible links that may help to explain whether improved access to health care can contribute to a reduction in crime,” explained Haiden Huskamp, a professor in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Huskamp is leading the study along with Colleen Barry, an Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Research and Practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

People involved in the criminal justice system often have extensive health care needs. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the approximately 11 million individuals who spend time in our nation’s jails each year, 65 percent are reportedly in need of treatment for a substance abuse disorder; more than half have an addiction, mental illness, or both; and up to 43 percent have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Yet, studies find that the overwhelming majority of people leaving jail – 80 – 90 percent – do not have health insurance. New health care options under the ACA will allow many of these individuals to receive coverage.

The goal of this project is to learn everything we can about how the ACA is being used nationally to make our communities safer and to improve public health,” LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Anne Milgram said.

An inventory will be produced as part of the overall Hopkins/​Harvard study and will be available publicly at the end of the calendar year. The research will also include an in-depth study of a unique partnership in Illinois between the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Cook County Health and Hospitals System, and TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) with the location being inside the Cook County Jail that has signed up thousands of individuals exiting jail for Medicaid coverage.

Dr. Barry emphasized the importance of conducting in-depth studies of earlier innovator programs that are currently enrolling individuals exiting jails and prisons in Medicaid under the ACA, and developing ways to connect them to mental health, addiction, and other medical and social services in their communities. She said, Early programs like the Cook County partnership have the potential to improve population health and may lower crime, so it is essential to learn lessons from their experiences and to share insights with jurisdictions in other areas of the country considering initiating similar efforts.” Research findings will be published in a peer-reviewed journal within the next year.