Press Releases

Congresswoman Kuster, Senator Booker Introduce Legislation to End Outdated Policy that Prevents Incarcerated Individuals from Accessing Medicaid

Today, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) reintroduced the Humane Correctional Health Care Act alongside Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who introduced companion legislation in the Senate. This bill would repeal the so-called Medicaid Inmate Exclusion, which strips health coverage from Medicaid enrollees who are involved in the criminal justice system, decreasing access to care and shifting that cost burden to states and counties instead. This legislation would increase the justice-involved population’s access to quality coverage and care needed to help them successfully return to their communities – including treatment for mental health and substance use disorders – and save state and taxpayer dollars.

Kuster, who is the founding co-chair of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, will be touring the New Hampshire Correctional Facility for Women (NHCFW) in Concord next week for a discussion with New Hampshire Department of Corrections Commissioner Helen Hanks and NHDOC staff to discuss mental health and substance misuse care for inmates and recently released individuals.

“The Medicaid Inmate Exclusion (MIE) forces many individuals involved in the justice system into a vicious cycle of addiction, incarceration and recidivism that devastates families and communities, and drains state and local budgets while harming public health and our economy.” Congresswoman Kuster said. “The Humane Correctional Health Care Act would help break the cycle by investing in adequate treatment and giving the justice population the opportunity to heal, recover, and make valuable contributions to our communities after leaving the system. States should not be on the hook for billions in health care spending on inmates. I’m pleased to introduce this common-sense measure alongside Senator Booker, and I urge leadership in both the Senate and the House to consider this legislation.”

“Health care is a fundamental human right that should never be stripped from any person, for any reason. Yet this happens every day to people who become involved in the justice system and are barred from receiving Medicaid benefits. This exclusion policy hurts the justice-involved population at a time when they are most in need of affordable, comprehensive health coverage, especially when a significant percentage live with serious health issues such as mental illness or substance use disorder,” Senator Booker said. “The Humane Correctional Health Care Act will increase access to coverage and care by ending the draconian prohibition of Medicaid coverage for incarcerated individuals. I’m pleased to join Rep. Kuster in this important effort.”

Many of those who are justice-involved have significant health needs. For instance, approximately 60 percent of people in U.S prisons and jails meet the clinical criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD), and about 40 percent have been diagnosed with a mental health disorders. Yet, very few incarcerated individuals receive adequate treatment to manage their conditions. Since the establishment of the Medicaid program in 1965, the United States prison population has grown by 650 percent: from approximately 200,000 to 1.5 million. This growth has contributed to a health care crisis that has strained the resources of states and counties, with states spending approximately $8.5 billion on poor and insufficient health care in 2016 alone.

By repealing the Medicaid inmate exclusion, the Humane Correctional Health Care Act would not only increase the justice-involved population’s access to quality coverage and care, it would also help reduce recidivism and result in states saving taxpayer money on the health care of justice-involved individuals, including millions of dollars that can be used to provide community-based treatment.

The legislative text of H.R. 4141, the Humane Correctional Health Care Act, is available here.