In a First, Medicaid Extends Coverage to Prison Inmates

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FRIDAY, Jan. 27, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Some inmates in California could begin getting certain limited health services, including substance abuse treatment and mental health diagnoses, using Medicaid funds.

Typically, inmates lose Medicaid coverage while in the prison, jail or juvenile justice system.

This change will be the first time ever that Medicaid has provided some coverage for inmates, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is allowing this only in California for now, in a program that could become a model for other states.

Care would begin 90 days before someone is scheduled to be released, offering supports that don’t now exist. It will provide more stability for inmates and juvenile detainees upon their release, CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in an agency news release.

This will allow the state to “make unprecedented advancements for incarcerated individuals who have long been underserved,” Brooks-LaSure added. "By helping these individuals access essential services and care coordination prior to release, we will also prevent gaps in care as they rejoin their communities.”

It will take some time to get the program up and running.

California state officials hope some inmates can access services starting in 2024 and that it will begin in all the state’s prisons in about two years.

The program will require inmate screening. Case workers will need to help those eligible develop a plan for their release.

California releases nearly a half million inmates from state prisons and county jails each year. About 80% of those individuals qualify for Medicaid, the AP reported.

“Right now, there is an enormous barrier to care when people leave prison and jail,” Vikki Wachino, who oversees the Health and Reentry Project at the Commonwealth Fund, told the AP. “As you know, many times when they’re released, they’ve been left to fend for themselves, with very, very few supports.”

At least 10 other states have asked for exemptions to use Medicaid dollars for inmate care, the AP reported.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on improving mental health for inmates.

SOURCE: Associated Press

What This Means For You

Prison inmates in California will soon be eligible for certain limited health services, including substance abuse treatment and mental health diagnoses, courtesy of Medicaid.

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