Because Medicaid does not cover anyone in jail or prison, inmates who were enrolled before their incarceration had to reapply after their release, a process can take months, says the New York Times. The gap leaves many former prisoners with no choice but to forgo medical care, even in cases of serious illnesses or addiction. Officials are concerned that without help, former inmates addicted to drugs or alcohol could return to behavior that could land them back in jail.
After lobbying by New York City officials and criminal justice advocates, the New York Legislature passed a bill signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer last week that eliminates the wait. It allows prisoners in New York to suspend their Medicaid coverage while incarcerated, then have it immediately reinstated once they are released. “The next step is to go beyond suspension to make sure that every person leaving prison has health care coverage, regardless of whether or not they had it before,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York.