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Published on Friday, January 29, 2016

Public hearing scheduled for important bill addressing incarcerated populations on Medicaid

SB 6430/HB 2850, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee) and Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D-Capitol Hill), comes out of recommendations of the Adult Behavioral Health Task Force. The bills would suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid medical assistance benefits for persons who are incarcerated by July 1, 2017.

Under current law, when an individual is incarcerated their benefits are terminated (under a rule called the “inmate exclusion”), posing great challenges for that individual once they leave incarceration. If they are struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse issues and need to access treatment, the ability to access treatment without medical benefits proves to be very challenging. The federal government grants waivers of existing Medicaid rules to states under certain circumstances. An example of this is a Section 1115 waiver, under which, subject to negotiation, the federal government allows a state to provide services or extend coverage under Medicaid in areas which would normally be disallowed. In 2004, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services sent a letter to state Medicaid directors encouraging all states to "suspend" and not "terminate" Medicaid services while a person is an inmate of a public institution.

SB 6430 and HB 2850 would also require the Health Care Authority to collaborate with the Department of Social and Health Services, the Washington State Association of Counties, and Accountable Communities of Health to improve population health and reduce avoidable use of intensive services and settings by requesting expenditure authority from the federal government to provide behavioral health services to persons who are incarcerated in local jails.

AWC is very supportive of this legislation. SB 6430 had a public hearing in the Senate Human Services and Mental Health & Housing Committee on January 26 and is scheduled for executive action on February 1.