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Home > Featured > Senate committee mulls bill to restore Medicaid benefits after incarceration

Senate committee mulls bill to restore Medicaid benefits after incarceration

By Jeri Davis
Washoe County Jail

A bill currently progressing through the Nevada Legislature would make several changes to the way Medicaid is managed in Nevada, including making it easier for inmates of jails and prisons to get their Medicaid restored upon release.

Medicaid will not cover a person’s medical costs when they’re incarcerated, and their eligibility for it is traditionally terminated when they first enter a correctional facility. This means people must reapply for Medicaid when they’re released. A provision of Senate Bill 93 would change this, so Medicaid eligibility is suspended for inmates but would be reinstated as soon as possible upon their release.

A similar bill was introduced during the 2019 session but did not pass.

SB 93 was heard by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services on Feb. 16. Senator Joe Hardy, who is also a family physician, explained the provision to his fellow committee members.

State Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
State Senator Joe Hardy on the fourth day of the 81st session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.
(David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

“Persons that have been incarcerated, when they get out they’re vulnerable,” he said. “They have medical problems. They have problems where they may have had substance use disorders, and they get out in this very vulnerable time—and if we take a long time getting the approval for Medicaid to be reinstated, then they are at risk for recidivism.”

Hardy said suspending rather than terminating inmates’ Medicaid eligibility will save the state money, reduce recidivism rates among people who’ve done jail or prison time and ease their transitions back into society.

The bill received support from several agencies and organizations, including the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

WCSO Sheriff Darin Balaam provided testimony in support of SB 93, saying it would greatly improve his office’s continuity of care and outcomes for incarcerated people. He noted that WCSO formed a partnership with the state several years ago to allow them to help inmates incarcerated at the Washoe County Detention Facility apply for Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits prior to their release.

“Currently, our detention services unit pulls a report once a week for inmates that are scheduled to be released within 10 days,” he said. “If that inmate has indicated that they would like services or are eligible for Medicaid, they are screened—and we are providing them with the application.”

Balaam said WCSO sends on average between six and 15 Medicaid or SNAP applications to the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services per day.

Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam.
Washoe County Sheriff
Darin Balaam.

“That shows you how many inmates just in our detention facility here in Washoe County need Medicaid or SNAP,” he said. “For so many people we serve, the programs and services that they want or need require insurance—and we truly believe at the sheriff’s office that this is a responsibility that’s incumbent upon us to help them with their services in an effort to reduce … recidivism and help them get back on the road to recovery.”

Balaam said people incarcerated in Washoe County have, over recent years, increasingly been those who struggle with drug addiction or mental illness and are in need of care after their releases.

“By providing Medicaid prior to their release, it truly helps them keep that continuity of care once they’re released—because oftentimes what we’ve seen is when they’re released from our facility and have not been able to have their Medicaid reinstated, they turn to those other types of illegal substances … trying to medicate themselves,” he said. “So, we believe this bill will help ensure the neediest among us receive those services via Medicaid or SNAP.”

SB 93 also received testimony in support from Clark County representatives and the Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCEDSV).

Serena Evans, policy specialist for NCEDSV, told committee members her organization is in strong support of the measure, adding, “We know that many victim survivors are incarcerated for a multitude of reasons, many of which are direct impacts because of their victimization. And we consistently hear that for many survivors, previously incarcerated or not, getting access to affordable health care is a challenge and can be a big barrier for overcoming previous victimization.”

The Senate committee is expected to have another hearing on SB 93 in the coming weeks.

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