(Chicago) – As a means to reduce recidivism and stabilize communities, the availability of reliable health care upon release from jail or prison is a crucial dimension to any community reentry strategy. In particular, ready access to medications and services that treat mental illness and addiction are critical for preventing a return to criminal behavior.
This year, the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pat Quinn took a key step to ensure that individuals may continue their care uninterrupted when they transition from jail or prison back to the community. House Bill 1046, sponsored in the House by Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and in the Senate by Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), allows for incarcerated individuals to begin the process of applying for Medicaid coverage when there are more than 30 days remaining before their release, so that coverage could be effective once they are released from prison or jail.
The bill, signed into law by Governor Quinn on August 2, addresses an inadvertent gap in health care coverage that occurs between incarceration and return to the community. Prison and jail medical care is covered by corrections budgets, but upon release, individuals must have either private or public insurance (i.e., Medicaid) to continue their health care in the community.
The new law amends a 2010 measure, PA 096-0872, which allows individuals to apply for medical assistance 30 days before release. However, due to the length of time it typically takes to complete the application and enrollment process, the 30-day-limit became an obstacle to care rather than a means to achieve the intended goal, according to TASC President Pamela Rodriguez.
“Because of the lag time in completing the enrollment process, individuals with mental health issues and other serious behavioral health conditions are being released from incarceration without having access to needed medications and treatment upon release,” explained Rodriguez. “The 2010 law inadvertently stopped short of ensuring access to care, as was intended.”
The new law, PA 98-0139, which was approved with overwhelming bi-partisan majorities in both chambers, allows the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Illinois Department of Corrections to develop administrative procedures for an application process that specifically fits within jail and prison environments.
Rodriguez stressed that the law grants no new benefits to formerly incarcerated individuals.
“The new law neither affects an individual’s eligibility for medical assistance, nor does it grant medical coverage while an individual is incarcerated,” said Rodriguez. “Instead, it connects people with community health services that reduce the likelihood of crime and recidivism, and it increases their ability to conduct independent and productive lives.”