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Medicaid Can Support Transitions Back to the Community

As people leave jail or prison, they need health coverage — and many are eligible for Medicaid.  Uninterrupted access to health care can reduce their risk of recidivism and improve their job and housing prospects and family support.  With the Justice Department declaring this week National Reentry Week to support efforts to help justice-involved individuals successfully reenter the community, it’s an especially good time for states that haven’t expanded Medicaid to cover low-income adults to consider how expansion could benefit those reentering the community as well as their families and the state.

Recent guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services clarifies that Medicaid covers services for individuals who are on parole or probation, on home confinement, or in the community awaiting trial.  The guidance also explains that people living in halfway houses, which corrections agencies often supervise, can receive Medicaid-covered services as long as they have freedom of movement and association and can get health care in the community just as other Medicaid beneficiaries do.

Additionally, the guidance explains how states should suspend, rather than terminate, eligibility for beneficiaries while incarcerated and how they can work with prisons and jails to enroll people in Medicaid and connect them to health care services before they reenter the community.

Nineteen states need to fully realize Medicaid’s ability to support the justice-involved population by expanding Medicaid to cover all adults with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line.  Nationwide, 2.2 million people are incarcerated and 4.7 million are on probation or parole, says the Department of Health and Human Services.  In states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, among adults under 65 who don’t have a disability, only very low-income parents and pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid.  That leaves many thousands of people, especially men, without health coverage to help them successfully transition back to the community.