Reentry Programs to Help Former Prisoners Obtain Health Care Are Often Underused

by | Mar 8, 2023 | Health

When Matthew Boyd was released from a Georgia state prison in December 2020, officials sent him home without medicines he uses to manage chronic heart and lung conditions and high blood pressure, he said.

Less than a month later, he spent eight days in an intensive care unit, the first of more than 40 hospital stays since. These days, he can barely get out of bed in his home south of Atlanta.

“It makes my life so miserable,” said Boyd, 44, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He told his story to KHN over email and text because he sometimes has trouble talking without losing his breath.

While Medicaid is generally prohibited from paying for the services people receive inside a prison or jail, the Biden administration opened the door for the federal program to cover care not long before a person is released, to help them better manage their health conditions during the transition. In February, the administration announced that states could also use Medicaid to pay for substance abuse treatment in state jails and prisons. Congressional efforts to reactivate Medicaid before inmates’ release nationwide have so far failed.

And across much of the South, where many states have not expanded Medicaid, reentry services that connect people like Boyd to health care resources are often minimal or nonexistent.

More than 600,000 people are released from state and federal prisons every year in the U.S. and the majority have health conditions. A 2019 judicial decision suggested that people who are incarcerated have a constitutional right to adequate medical discharge …

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