MADISON – Medicaid guidelines affecting incarcerated members will take effect later this month, state officials announced Friday.

Beginning Oct. 24, officials will suspend benefits for incarcerated members when they enter incarceration. Before release, an inmate will have their benefits re-evaluated.

Policy changes’ affect on current standard

Under the current policy, Medicaid members have their coverage terminated when they became incarcerated. Medical and behavioral health care was often delayed after their release, as a result. 

Medicaid is a federal program that provides health care services to low-income people.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) made the policy change. The two departments worked with income maintenance agencies and community partners.

Delays in care and re-arrest

Delays in care can result in increased negative health outcomes and rates of re-arrest. 

Incarcerated individuals are more likely to experience chronic physical and mental health conditions, the Kaiser Family Foundation states. This includes serious mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.

In the two weeks after release, adults leaving incarceration face a mortality rate 12.7 times higher than other adults.

“This new policy will increase the likelihood of successful re-entry for Wisconsin residents into their communities,” DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said in a news release.

“Connecting incarcerated individuals to health care and other support services upon their release is critical to breaking the cycles of chronic homelessness, reliance on emergency care and re-arrest.”

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Supervising more than 20,000

As of Oct. 9, the DOC’s Division of Adult Institutions was supervising 20,953 people. Nearly 70 percent of people released from incarceration in 2019 were eligible for a Medicaid program. In Wisconsin, the prison system released 9,585 residents from incarceration in the 2019 federal fiscal year.

Officials also expect the new policy to reduce expense pressure on community organizations and free or low-cost clinics.

Medicaid will pay for inpatient hospital expenses for inmates with suspended benefits. As a result, the policy should result in cost savings for the DOC and local county jails.

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