County officials are eyeing a specific group of people to sign up for the government-administered health-care marketplace — jail inmates.

In a memo written by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, he said he believes the county could save as much as $300,000 a year if those leaving the Pima County jail were enrolled in either the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which is the state’s Medicaid system, or with a provider associated with the federal government’s new Affordable Care Act insurance system.

A county study conducted in spring 2013 showed that about 70 inmates released every day into the Tucson community — many with serious medical conditions or a history of mental illness — had no health insurance.

The same study estimated that nearly 40 percent of the inmate population in the county jail, which houses about 2,000 people on a given day, has some type of chronic medical condition such as diabetes or hypertension.

“For many of these individuals the primary source of health care has become PCADC (jail) since they are unable to access or re-enter care in the community without insurance unless they present to a hospital emergency room, which is required to provide care under federal law,” Huckelberry wrote.

It’s estimated that slightly more than half the inmates housed at the jail are treated for mental-health problems.

An estimated 8 percent of the jail’s population is designated as seriously mentally ill, according to the report.

Roughly 80 percent of the jail’s annual medication budget is spent on psychotropic prescriptions, Huckelberry wrote.

“Clearly,” he added, the jail “is Southern Arizona’s largest mental health provider.”

The goal, Huckelberry wrote, is to register inmates for health care, which they can use upon release. 



Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.