On April 28, officials from the Obama administration moved to improve low Medicaid enrollment for newly-freed prisoners. The Administration is urging states to start signups before release, as well as expanding eligibility to thousands of former inmates in halfway houses.
While advocates have praised the policy shift, they cautioned that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as state governments are still far from ensuring that people who exit prison get access to treatments.
Kamala Mallik-Kane, a researcher at the Urban Institute who has studied the issue, said the following:
"It's highly variable. Some states and jurisdictions are having a lot of success. Others of them have initiatives in place that aren't reaching the kinds of numbers that are making a dent."
But prisons and jails have largely been slow to sign up released inmates. State and federal prisons release 600,000 inmates a year, but a study in Health Affairs showed that only 112,520 emerging inmates were enrolled in Medicaid between late 2013 and early 2015.
The new policy allows prisoners in halfway houses and home detention not to be considered inmates for Medicaid purposes, according to attorney Sarah Somers.
"That will be very helpful for a lot of people who are trying to transition out of incarceration," she said.
Ex-inmates have high rates of HIV, hepatitis C, diabetes, mental illness and drug abuse problems. These inmates become especially vulnerable during the transition phase in which they no longer have access to the prison medical system but do not yet have access to community doctors. This policy aims to change that.
As of right now, 31 states including Washington, D.C. have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.