Thursday April 29, 2016 – Most inmates in halfway houses after release from prison will be eligible for Medicaid benefits under a new federal policy announced today.
The change, part of a larger push by the Obama administration to help former inmates or reduce sentences, means nearly 100,000 people in halfway houses in states where they would be eligible for Medicaid should soon have access to health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Health coverage can “mean life or death” for this population as they are more vulnerable to substance abuse relapse in the two weeks after incarceration, said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Much of the announcement by the departments of Health and Human Services and Justice was a clarification and restatement of federal policy, which officials say many states didn’t fully understand. This included that those who are on probation, parole or under home confinement are not considered incarcerated for the purposes of Medicaid coverage.
Most people involved in the justice system have been uninsured and they are far more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and infectious disease, federal officials said. About half of those who are incarcerated have mental health and substance abuse conditions.
Medicaid coverage was extended to the poorest of the poor in many states beginning in the fall of 2013, and 30 states plus Washington, D.C., now have this so-called Medicaid expansion. Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the country, will be the next state to expand Medicaid.
“This is a positive step toward restoring faith in the notion that a previous bad act does not make a person irredeemable,” says Adrienne Wheeler, director of the Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana. The federal action “forges a path toward healing communities that may be plagued by substance abuse, poverty, and a lack of access to justice.”
Health coverage and access to treatment, however, can be two different things in the current health care environment.