Should Low-Income Jail Inmates Keep Medicaid?

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Photo courtesy Medicaid.gov

More state and local officials are working to ensure that low-income residents stay on Medicaid when they go to jail, Stateline reports. Federal law bars Medicaid recipients from accessing full federal health benefits while incarcerated.

Officials have pushed for two key changes to ensure little or no disruption of health benefits for pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime and make up most of the 612,000 people held in county jails.

In recent years, officials have increasingly used a stopgap measure to help inmates more seamlessly reactivate their Medicaid coverage on release from jail or prison. A bipartisan coalition of county sheriffs, commissioners and judges are lobbying Congress to change a long-standing policy and let pretrial detainees retain coverage while in custody.

The National Association of Counties and the National Sheriffs’ Association, which are supporting the effort, estimate that it would cost the federal government more than $3 billion a year. “Just because you’ve been in jail for a short period of time, that shouldn’t automatically knock you off the [Medicaid] rolls,” said Sheriff David Davis of Bibb County, Ga. “You then have to go through enrollment all over again.”

Some officials say the policy is discriminatory, allowing people who can post bond to retain their benefits, but denying coverage to indigent individuals. They say the policy burdens local and state governments with billions of dollars in additional health care costs.

Some officials say the denial of health benefits to pretrial detainees disrupts medical care, a key factor that can increase inmates’ chances of landing behind bars again.

New York’s health department has applied for a federal waiver to reactivate inmate Medicaid benefits 30 days before their release. One in six states still terminate Medicaid enrollment, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

See also: Numbers Show How Inmate Medicaid Can Save States Money  

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