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Improving Healthcare Continuity and Mental Health Access for Individuals who are Incarcerated

May 24, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s important to recognize the significant impact that incarceration can have on an individual’s mental health. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance on the Reentry Section 1115 Demonstration Opportunity, which aims to increase coverage and continuity of care for individuals who are incarcerated in the days prior to release and as they reenter their communities. By ensuring continuity of services, CMS hopes to improve access to healthcare thereby reducing the number of deaths and emergency department visits among individuals who have recently been incarcerated. There are three minimum benefits that are vital in this guidance and improving mental health.

  1. One essential benefit is case management to assess physical and behavioral health conditions and health-related social needs (HRSN) through better connections between carceral settings and community services. Individuals who have been incarcerated often face numerous challenges upon release, including finding employment, housing, and accessing appropriate healthcare services. Case management can help individuals navigate these challenges and ensure they receive the necessary support to successfully reintegrate into society.
  2. The guidance also emphasizes the importance of medication assisted treatment (MAT).  Individuals who are incarcerated tend to be at a higher risk of overdose deaths from substance use than the greater population and many people are incarcerated for crimes involving drugs or drug use. Given the alarming rates in overdose deaths, providing MAT will be crucial to the likelihood of successful reentry.
  3. In addition to case management and MAT, another benefit in the guidance includes a 30-day supply of all prescription medications upon release from correctional facilities. Individuals who have been incarcerated often have complex healthcare needs that require ongoing medication management. By providing a 30-day supply of all prescription medications upon release, this can ensure that individuals have the necessary medication to manage their conditions and avoid interruptions in care.

The Reentry Section 1115 Demonstration Opportunity is a critical step towards increasing coverage and continuity of care for individuals who are incarcerated, reducing healthcare disparities, and improving health outcomes. Studies have also shown that providing continuity of healthcare to individuals during and after incarceration can significantly reduce recidivism rates. Mental Health Awareness Month is an important reminder that mental health is a core component of overall health, and that we must work to ensure that individuals who are incarcerated have access to appropriate care and support to successfully reintegrate into society.

As we continue to raise awareness about mental health this month, let us also advocate for policies and programs that support the mental health needs of all people, including those who have been incarcerated. This work can create a more just and equitable healthcare system that promotes the health and wellbeing of all individuals.

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