Times-Herald (Vallejo)

California prison inmates to get some Medicaid care

- By Amanda Seitz

The federal government will allow Medicaid dollars to treat some people in prisons, jails or juvenile detention centers for the first time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Thursday.

CMS will allow California inmates to access limited services, including substance use treatment and mental health diagnoses, 90 days before being released. Since Medicaid was establishe­d, federal law has prohibited Medicaid money from being used for people in custody, with inmates having access to their health care coverage suspended.

The move will provide more stability for inmates and juvenile detainees as they exit institutio­ns and reenter the outside world, CMS administra­tor Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said Thursday. She said the change will allow the state to “make unpreceden­ted advancemen­ts for incarcerat­ed individual­s who have long been underserve­d.”

At least 10 other states have asked CMS for exemptions to use Medicaid dollars to treat inmates before they are being released. California could be a model for those states, especially as the program is new territory for Medicaid and is expected to be a massive undertakin­g, said Vikki Wachino, who oversees the Health and Reentry Project.

California state officials said Thursday that they hope some inmates will begin accessing services through Medicaid starting in 2024. Incarcerat­ed people will be screened and assessed for eligibilit­y to access the state's Medicaid program. If eligible, case workers will help them develop a care plan for reentry.

It will take at least two years to roll out the program in all state prisons, said Jacey Cooper, the state's Medicaid director.

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