February 12, 2021

Whitehouse, Baldwin, Braun, and Brown Lead Senate Introduction of Bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act

Grants states power to restart Medicaid services for incarcerated individuals 30 days before their release

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today announced the Senate introduction of the bipartisan Medicaid Reentry Act, legislation expanding access to addiction treatment and other health services for Medicaid-eligible individuals 30 days before their release from jail or prison.

Federal statute currently prohibits any form of federal health coverage for incarcerated individuals except under very limited circumstances. In most states, Medicaid coverage is immediately terminated when someone is sent to a correctional setting. This creates a serious coverage gap when individuals are released, as they often have no access to health care or addiction treatment during a stressful and dangerous time. This bill is a bipartisan response to this issue, following alarming evidence published in the New England Journal of Medicine that individuals reentering society are 129 times likelier than the general population to die of a drug overdose during the first two weeks after release.

“Rhode Island’s experience shows incarcerated individuals are less likely to reoffend if there is good preparation for their transition back to their community, including access to substance use treatment and other mental health and medical care,” said Whitehouse. “A successful transition out of the prison system is good for society, good for the individual, and good for taxpayers.”

Rhode Island began screening incarcerated individuals for opioid-use disorder in 2016. The state made medication assisted treatment available in prisons and set up systems for treatment to continue after reentry. The number of recently incarcerated people who died from an overdose dropped by about two-thirds from 26 in the first half of 2016, prior to the start of the program, to nine in the first half of 2017.

Specifically, the Medicaid Reentry Act will:

  • Grant new flexibility to restart benefits for Medicaid-eligible incarcerated individuals 30 days pre-release;
  • Make it easier for states to coordinate effective addiction treatment and other health services, allowing for a warm handoff to community care and a reduced risk of overdose deaths post-release; and
  • Ensure a smooth transition back to Medicaid for those who are already eligible for Medicaid coverage.

A broad coalition of national organizations support the Medicaid Reentry Act, including A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), American Jail Association, The American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, The Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Central City Concern, CleanSlate Centers, Community Catalyst, Community Oriented Correctional Health Services (COCHS), HIV Medicine Association, International Community Corrections Association, The Kennedy Forum, Legal Action Center, Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA), McShin Foundation, National Association of Counties (NACo), National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, National Council for Behavioral Health, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), National Health Care for the Homeless Council, The National Safety Council, National Sheriffs Association, Shatterproof, The Student Coalition on Addiction (SCA), Treatment Communities of America, Well Being Trust, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“Addiction doesn’t disappear behind bars, yet evidence-based addiction treatment is still too difficult to access for incarcerated individuals,” said Paul H. Earley, MD, president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. “During the first two weeks of reentry, people are 129 times more likely to die of a drug overdose and are at significantly higher risk of suicide, underscoring the need to ensure coordinated care during such a vulnerable time. We commend these bipartisan leaders for introducing the Medicaid Reentry Act and urge Congress to pass this critical legislation quickly in order to reduce the risk of overdose and ultimately save lives.”

“The Medicaid Reentry Act is a critical part of our nation’s response to growing mental health and substance use crises, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Vikki Wachino, CEO of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services and former Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services at CMS. “Health care continuity as people prepare to return to their families and communities will improve the lives of millions of people, and achieve better public health, public safety, and equity.”

“People with substance use and other psychiatric disorders need continuity of treatment. Ensuring that people who’ve been incarcerated can continue to access health care when they return to the community will save lives,” said American Psychiatric Association President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. “Given the pandemic and the increase in overdose deaths we’re seeing overall, particularly among people who are incarcerated, we urge Congress to pass the Medicaid Reentry Act.”

The bipartisan legislation has been re-introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Michael Turner (R-OH-10).

More information about the legislation is available here.

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921