Medicaid is the state and federally funded health care safety net for people with incomes between 50 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. States and localities must provide health care for people who are incarcerated. Individuals lose Medicaid coverage while incarcerated, leaving them uninsured until they are able to reapply for and be reinstated on Medicaid, or secureprivate insurance. Some states have addressed this gap in coverage by suspending rather than terminating Medicaid benefits.
Health needs of prisoners may include chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cardiac or mental health conditions. They may receive treatment while in jail or prison that stabilizes such a condition, but then be released without coverage and access to health care. A lapse in treatment, especially for serious health conditions, may result in negative health consequences for individuals and more in costs to the state for uncompensated care.
At least 35 states have adopted policies that suspend rather than terminate Medicaid coverage for those incarcerated. This policy approach yields administrative savings related to the reapplication and eligibility determination process, which can take 45 to 90 days. It also allows for maintenance of treatment, contributing to better health outcomes and more successful offender re-entry.
Sources: Council of State Governments, Justice Center, Medicaid and Financing Health Care for Individuals Involved with the Criminal Justice System.
National Association of Counties, Health Coverage Enrollment for Justice Involved Individuals,2016
NCSL, LegisBrief, Providing Health Care Coverage for Former Inmates, Vol. 22, No. 15, April 2015.
Vera Institute of Justice; Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration. Feb 2013.