WASHINGTON — The federal government will allow Medicaid dollars to care for some people in prisons, jails or juvenile detention centers for the first time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday.
CMS will allow California inmates access to limited services, including substance use treatment and mental health diagnostics, 90 days prior to release. Since Medicaid was established, federal law has prohibited Medicaid money from being used for people who are in custody, and inmates have access to their suspended health care coverage.
The move will provide more stability for inmates and detained minors as they leave institutions and re-enter the outside world, CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said Thursday.
She said the change will allow the state to “make unprecedented strides for incarcerated people who have been underserved for a long time.”
At least 10 other states have asked CMS for waivers to use Medicaid dollars to treat inmates before they are released. California could be a model for those states, especially since the program is new territory for Medicaid and is expected to be a huge undertaking, said Vikki Wachino, who oversees the Health and Reentry Project.
California state officials said Thursday that they expect some inmates to begin accessing services through Medicaid beginning in 2024. Incarcerated individuals will be screened and screened to determine their eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program. If they are eligible, caseworkers will help them develop a plan of care for reentry.
It will take at least two years to implement the program in all prisons in the state, said Jacey Cooper, the state’s Medicaid director.
Millions of people are expected to be affected, with California releasing nearly half a million inmates from state prisons or county jails each year and approximately 80% of those qualifying for Medicaid.
People coming out of prison, jail or juvenile detention often don’t know where to start for medical care, Wachino said.
“Right now, there is a huge barrier to care when people are released from prison and jail,” Wachino said. “As you know, many times when they are released, they are left to fend for themselves, with very, very little support.”
This story was first published on January 26, 2023. Updated on January 27, 2023 to remove an incorrect reference to the Commonwealth Fund Health and Reentry Project. The project is not in the Commonwealth Fund.