Advocates say proposal would reduce
crime, opiod-related overdose deaths
The federal government plans to allow states to use Medicaid funds for addiction treatment in correctional facilities, a reversal of a long-standing policy.
In 1965 when Medicaid was launched, the joint federal and state health-insurance program for low-income people prohibited the use of its funds for incarcerated people. The newly proposed Medicaid rules will reverse course and allow its use for mental health and addiction-related medical services in federal and state correctional facilities, according an article by The Associated Press.
The new rules are related to a previous revision of Medicaid that allows states to establish programs to enroll incarcerated people in Medicaid up to 90 days before their release. Officials and advocates contend that expanding Medicaid coverage to mental health and drug treatment for incarcerated people can help reduce crime and keep people alive.
“Treating substance abuse in jails and prisons is smart. It’s a smart move for our economic prosperity, for our safety and health of our nation,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Dr. Gupta announced the plan when visiting the Camden County jail in New Jersey.
The majority of incarcerated people in jails and prisons meet criteria for drug dependency and abuse, according to the article.
Experiencing drug withdrawals while in detention can cause people to self-medicate through contraband street drugs, which can lead to overdosing and other problems.
In addition, incarcerated people are at especially high risk of dying from an overdose upon their release, which is the leading cause of death for those recently released from custody. This is due in part because of the lowered tolerance for drugs such as heroin in people who quit using when in custody.
The new rule will allow state and federal correction departments to provide prescribed drugs to reduce harm and safely manage addictions as part of an approach known as Medically Assisted Treatment.
In California prisons for example, incarcerated people struggling with addiction can partake in MAT programs. Now, federal Medicaid funds can be used to help pay for such programs in prisons and jails across the nation.
“We’re really hopeful that this coverage will help people improve their health outcomes and avoid additional involvement in the criminal justice system,” said Gabrielle de la Gueronniere, a vice president at the Legal Action Center.
Similar to the world outside of prison walls, medicines for inmates can come with a large price tag. The costs of some MAT medicines are particularly high. This includes Sublocade, an opioid addiction treatment drug administered through a shot every four weeks.
For example, the Camden County jail that Dr. Gupta visited has spent more than $528,000 since 2019 to provide Sublocade to 170 incarcerated people, according the AP article.
Nearly a quarter of the incarcerated people in the jail are receiving some form of MAT treatment for addiction, and the funding for the program relies on state budget allocations and grant money.
“It allows us to use those SAFE [grant] dollars to go further and to do more,” said Sarah Adelman, New Jersey’s human services commissioner.