Washington News Service - Washington will allow people nearing release from state prisons and jails to qualify for Medicaid health coverage. The expansion starts in July 2025. Incarcerated Washingtonians, including those in juvenile facilities, can apply for Medicaid up to 90 days before their release.
There are more than 13,000 people in Washington state prisons. (doc.wa.gov)
Jason McGill, assistant director of the Washington State Health Care Authority, said one of the most important aspects of this expansion is ensuring that people avoid drug overdoses after they're released.
"Many may have other either behavioral health, substance use, mental health issues," he said, "so need that level of coordination of benefit and preferably, actually services, such as medication for opioid use disorder."
McGill noted that most people don't have jobs upon release from prison, so they meet the income threshold for Medicaid. The expansion in coverage is part of an agreement with the federal government on how the state uses Medicaid funds.
Research shows the risk of opioid overdose can be up to ten times higher for people recently released from incarceration. McGill said the state Legislature has invested in services for opioid-use disorder for people in correctional facilities, which are offering what treatment services they can. But, he said, there is currently a crucial hurdle to providing more treatment.
"It's expensive," he said, "and so having Medicaid as a backbone infrastructure covering these services will be so helpful for our correctional facilities."
Washington and California are the first states to announce the expansion of Medicaid for people about to be released from incarceration.