The New York Times and moi recently did a story about how for the first time ever jails and prisons around the country are beginning to sign up inmates for health insurance under the law, taking advantage of the expansion of Medicaid. This sent me over to Inverness Jail to chat with inmate Devon Campbell-Williams. Photographing in prison is always a bit nerve wracking, trying to establish rapport, trying not to break any rules, trying to act cool when you are freaking out. Being a woman at a men's prison can help, for just the reasons you think it would. Devon was charming and sweet and in our allotted five minutes we talked about his plans to open a food cart based on carnival fair food and the fact that, due to the Affordable Care Act we both had health insurance for the first time that either of us could remember. All this while I danced around him, my finger remaining steadily on the shutter release. Devon is one of more than 1,200 inmates in the Portland area alone that have been enrolled through the infamous state exchange, Cover Oregon. The biggest benefit of this is that enrolled inmates have coverage after they get out. People coming out of jail or prison have disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases, especially mental illness and addictive disorders but few have insurance. Oh, irony. As most things dealing with health insurance are, it is a tricky story. It comes down to who is going to pay the bill and whether more money could be saved over the long term if connecting newly released inmates to services helps to keep them out of jail and reduces visits to the ER, the most expensive form of care.
Multnomah County Inverness Jail