HHS Authorizes Pre-Release Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment for Incarcerated People in 5 States

HHS Authorizes Pre-Release Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment for Incarcerated People in 5 States

Five U.S. states are now authorized to provide incarcerated people with coverage for substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and other services before their release.

Traditionally, Medicaid does not provide treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders to eligible individuals who are incarcerated in prisons, jails, or youth correctional facilities. Now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has authorized Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont to extend coverage to these populations up to 90 days before their release.

“For the first time, thousands of incarcerated people in Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont will have critical support as they transition out of prison through this important health coverage,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said in a statement. “At the heart of this work are Medicaid and CHIP, programs that continue to bring states and the federal government together to meet the needs of our communities. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, this has meant more innovation than ever to improve public health and safety.”

Substance use disorders have a disproportionate impact on incarcerated people. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 65% ​​of incarcerated people in the United States have a substance use disorder.

Lack of SUD service coverage prior to release may result in delayed treatment and worsened health outcomes.

To address this disparity and create a stable pipeline to treatment and recovery, states can submit Medicaid Reentry Section 1115 waivers to request that HSS authorize coverage prior to an incarcerated person’s release.

California led the way in this flexibility, and Massachusetts, Montana and Washington followed suit.

Industry insiders told Addiction Treatment Business in February that they expected waivers allowing SUD services for incarcerated people to become more common.

In fact, CMS has now simplified the waiver process to allow other states to follow suit. The agency has developed a standardized application process to expedite approval of these requests.

For incarcerated people with substance use disorders, the increased coverage will ensure better continuity of care, improved access to substance use disorder care before release, and improved transitions back to the community, according to HHS.

The HHS authorization also includes access to other health services in addition to SUD care, including physical care.

“For people involved in the justice system, ensuring a successful transition back into the community means providing them with the health care services and supports they need,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “I am pleased to see more states dedicating resources to efforts that will ensure these individuals have what they need to thrive.”

The move will also increase the use of stabilizing medications, such as long-acting injectables for alcohol use disorder, increase investments in health services for incarcerated people and reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, according to HHS.

Outcomes like reduced emergency room visits are what make providing benefits to incarcerated people a “win-win,” Cooper Zelnick, chief revenue officer at Groups Recover Together, an opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment provider, previously told ATB.

“If you can provide access to social benefits, they’re much more likely to seek treatment,” Zelnick said. “That treatment probably has a positive impact on recidivism, which significantly reduces the cost center that is our criminal justice system, and on top of that, you get positive health outcomes, so everybody wins.”