Is Providing Access to Healthcare After Release from Prison Enough?
Providing health care after release is a great program, however, most mental illness requires constant review, which does not occur inside the prison walls. Alana Horowitz Satlin wrote in the Huffington Post, “A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.”
Connecticut’s Department of Correction’s Disclaimer reads: “The Department of Correction provides comprehensive health care to the offender population that meets a community standard of care, and includes medical, mental health, dental, addiction and ancillary services, in compliance with applicable state and federal laws and consent decrees. This spectrum of health care is carried out through a partnership the Department has established with the services of the University of Connecticut, Correctional Managed Health Care.”
NCIA’s analysis found that only three departments of correction (California, Delaware, and Louisiana) had suicide prevention policies that addressed all six critical components and that an additional five departments of correction (Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) had policies that addressed all but one critical component. Thus, only 15 percent of all departments of correction had policies that contained either all or all but one critical component of suicide prevention. In contrast, 14 departments of correction (27%) had either no suicide prevention policies or limited policies — 3 with none, and 11 with policies that addressed only one or two critical components. The majority (58%) of DOCs had policies that contained three or four of the critical components.
Medicaid Enrollment for Prisoners
Administration officials moved to improve low Medicaid enrollment for emerging prisoners, urging states to start signups before release and expanding eligibility to thousands of former inmates in halfway houses near the end of their sentences.
Health coverage for ex-inmates “is critical to our goal of reducing recidivism and promoting the public health,” said Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Advocates praised the changes but cautioned that HHS and states are still far from ensuring that most people leaving prisons and jails are put on Medicaid and get access to treatment.
“It’s highly variable. Some states and jurisdictions are having a lot of success” enrolling ex-prisoners, said Kamala Mallik-Kane, a researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied the process. “Others of them have initiatives in place that aren’t reaching the kinds of numbers that are making a dent.”
The 2010 health law made nearly all ex-prisoners eligible for Medicaid in states that chose to expand the state and federal insurance program for the poor. Many welcomed the chance to cover a group with high rates of chronic disease, mental illness and substance abuse problems.
But prisons and jails, burdened with ineffective computers, understaffing and complicated Medicaid enrollment procedures, have been slow to sign up released inmates.
Federal and state prisons let out more than 600,000 people a year. Millions more cycle through jails. But a study published in Health Affairs found prisons and jails nationwide enrolled only 112,520 emerging inmates between late 2013 up to January 2015.
Much of HHS’ guidance repeats existing policy, reminding states that those on probation or parole are eligible for Medicaid and urging states to keep prisoners’ names in the Medicaid computers while they’re locked up. (That eases re-enrollment.)
Inmates are generally ineligible for Medicaid while incarcerated. Prison and jail medical systems care for them.
HHS is “providing encouragement and a nudge” to states to improve sign-ups as well as money to upgrade enrollment computers, said Colleen Barry, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who has studied ex-inmate enrollment. “They understand that this is a technology issue.”
Making up to 96,000 halfway-house inmates eligible for Medicaid is new policy, designed to connect people with care before they’re fully released. Prisoners often move to halfway houses or home detention near the end of their terms, closely supervised but frequently allowed to shop, apply for jobs and see a doctor.
Under the new policy, “if you have a fair amount of freedom of movement” in a halfway house, “you’re not considered an inmate” for Medicaid purposes, said Sarah Somers, an attorney for the National Health Law Program, an advocacy group. “That will be very helpful for a lot of people who are trying to transition out of incarceration.”
Ex-inmates have extremely high rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection, diabetes, mental illness and substance abuse problems. They are especially vulnerable after they leave the prison medical system and before they connect with community doctors.
One study in Washington state showed that ex-inmates were a dozen times more likely to die than the general population in the first two weeks after their release.
Immediate Medicaid coverage “can mean the difference between life in the community and recidivism and even life and death,” Michael Botticelli, the White House’s director of national drug control policy, told reporters.
HHS has been urging states to enroll ex-inmates in Medicaid for years. But the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion made many more of them eligible for coverage, giving policymakers a new reason to promote sign-ups, advocates said.
So far 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the law.
By Jay Hancock April 29, 2016 Kaiser Health News