U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow inmates to re-enter Medicaid before their release.
The “Medicaid Reentry Act” would all give states the ability to expand access to addiction treatment and other health services for Medicaid-eligible inmates 30 days before they are released from incarceration.
The legislation aims to close the gap between a prisoner’s release and when they are again covered by Medicaid. Once someone is incarcerated, they immediately lose all Medicaid coverage. This leaves them without coverage upon their release, which greatly hampers their ability to get treatment for drug addiction or mental health issues.
“The opioid and substance use disorder epidemic remains rampant in Wisconsin and across the country, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically impacting the addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery landscape in this country. This problem is harshly affecting incarcerated individuals who are working to reenter society, but currently lack the health care coverage they need to continue their recovery,” Baldwin said. “We need to make sure these rehabilitated folks have Medicaid or other health care coverage needed to seamlessly transition back to community care and reduce the risk of overdose deaths post-release. I’m proud to work with my Senate and House colleagues on this bipartisan reform to address our nation’s addiction crisis and support our continued fight against this deadly epidemic.”
The bill comes after a New England Journal of Medicine article, which found that individuals reentering society are 129 times likelier to die of a drug overdose during the first two weeks after their release than those in the general population.
Specifically, the bill will grant flexibility to restart benefits for Medicaid-eligible incarcerated individuals 30 days pre-release; make it easier for states to coordinate effective addiction treatment and other health services; and ensure a smooth transition back to Medicaid for those who are already eligible for Medicaid coverage.
“Rhode Island’s experience shows incarcerated individuals are less likely to re-offend if there is good preparation for their transition back to their community, including access to substance use treatment and other medical and mental health services,” said Senator Whitehouse. “A successful transition out of the prison system is good for society, good for the individual, and good for taxpayers.”
A similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Michael Turner (R-OH).
The legislation is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations, including A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), the Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the American Jail Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, International Community Corrections Association, the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA), Mental Health America, the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, and the American Public Health Association.