The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), recently approved a demonstration project in California to provide pre-release services and improved access to care for persons being released from jails and prisons.
Nationally, 80% of individuals released from prison each year have a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). In 2021, I introduced AB 1214 to provide Medicaid coverage, including coverage for drug addictions for incarcerated individuals immediately prior to their release which was included in the state’s health budget bill last year This coverage would ensure a continuum of care/intervention to ease the transition back into the community to reduce future substance abuse, mental illness, crimes and recidivism. Though the bill died in committee, the proposal was folded into the state budget, and has now been approved as a demonstration project by the federal government.
Under this first-in-the-nation initiative, behavioral healthcare will be available to persons as they leave incarceration. Overall, the program will improve communication between correctional systems, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), managed care plans and community providers. Since it’s a demonstration project, California will be required to provide a comprehensive evaluation proving the program’s effectiveness.
According to HHS Secretary Xavier Bacerra, “This is the first time in history Medicaid will be providing coverage to justice-involved individuals prior to release. It’s a step forward in closing gaps in services this underserved community experiences, and I encourage other states to follow California’s lead.”
We need to reestablish realistic penalties for serious crimes – and those efforts will continue. But many of the underlying causes of crime, such as drug abuse, addiction, and mental illness also must be addressed. This is a big step in that direction.
Public safety is the primary responsibility of government. By using all the tools we have available, we can reduce crime, restore lives, and make our communities safer.