UPDATE: HB1062 was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 8 as act 76 of 2016.
Addiction and health concerns do not end when a person leaves prison, but for many who rely on Medicaid, a Pennsylvania state policy can create a nearly three-month divide from release and accessing treatment.
A bill aiming to bridge that gap is currently sitting on Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.
An amendment to House Bill 1062, which makes changes to the state’s human services code and passed along with a flurry of other budget related items late last week, directs the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid enrollment when a person is incarcerated.
“I’m very sure this is going to get signed,” Sen. Pat Vance, who championed the change, said.
This means quicker restoration of benefits and more direct access to health care, like substance abuse treatment, when a person is released from prison.
“I just didn’t make sense why we couldn’t make the change,” Vance said, noting that she has be discussing the policy with DHS for several years. “…This is just good, common sense legislation that will help people and, I believe, save tax payers money.”
Under the current system Medicaid enrollment is terminated when DHS is notified that the person is incarcerated.
This can happen within a few days of entering the prison and happens whether the person is being held following a conviction or during the pretrial phase merely because they can’t post bail.
It can take up to 90 days for health benefits to be reestablished under the current system, which is nearly twice as long as the average inmate’s stay in the Cumberland County Prison, according a study conducted by the county.
Those days between release and when the person is able to access treatment can be the difference between sobriety and relapse.
As Kristin Noecker, program coordinator with The RASE Project, told The Sentinel in December, “a person who is addicted to substances isn’t good at waiting.”
Jeffrey Sheridan, spokesman for Wolf, said the governor supports Vance’s legislation and would support a stand-alone version of the bill if House Bill 1062 gets tied up in the ongoing budget debate.
“When a person is coming out of incarceration, access to health care is…of huge importance to reducing recidivism,” Sheridan said.
Wolf has until Tuesday to decide whether he will sign the budget bills that landed on his desk on July 1, veto them or allow them to go into effect without his signature.