November 23, 2020

Medicaid Expansion Would Provide Crucial Health Care Services to Returning Citizens and Inmates, Alleviate Florida Department of Corrections Budget Woes

New report highlights advantages of strengthening Florida’s Medicaid program

ORLANDO, Fla. - Expanding medicaid could provide health care coverage to thousands of uninsured justice-involved individuals, providing access to services essential for successful transition into their local communities, according to a new Florida Policy Institute (FPI) report. Additional funds could also help support new reentry programs, which are key to connecting people to services and reducing recidivism rates.

Specifically, FPI noted that:

  • Current state resources cannot adequately support the health care needs of Florida’s prison population, which now exceeds 96,000 people. Many people entering prison are uninsured and have significant unmet health care needs.
  • Most justice-involved individuals are not currently eligible for Medicaid under the state’s extremely restrictive criteria. In Florida, healthy adults (aged 19-64) without minor children, even those with no income, are excluded from the program.
  • Access to physical and behavioral health services is crucial for successful reentry and reduced rates of recidivism. Medicaid expansion research shows that when justice-involved individuals can access these services, crime rates drop.
  • Medicaid expansion could help reduce health and health care disparities for justice-involved Floridians of color. Due to systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system and barriers to affordable health care coverage, people of color are overrepresented in Florida's prison system and are disproportionately uninsured.
  • Medicaid expansion could free up millions in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) and other parts of the state budget, which could be reinvested in community-based service needs of justice-involved individuals.

“There is no better time to expand Medicaid in Florida,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “Returning citizens were already facing numerous barriers to successful reentry, and these challenges have been only exacerbated by the current health and economic crisis.  Ensuring access to affordable health care coverage through expansion would not only provide crucial physical and mental health services to justice-involved individuals caught in the ‘coverage gap’— it would also free up millions in state dollars at a time when our state is facing a gaping $5.6 billion shortfall.”

“Medicaid expansion would provide crucial health care services to incarcerated individuals and relieve FDC from having to make the difficult decisions it has had to make in the past, like cutting crucial health services such as Hep C treatment,” said Denise Rock, executive director of Florida Cares Charity Corp., which is dedicated to improving the lives of the incarcerated.  “FDC could then use the savings to implement programs that focus on those who are serving long sentences as well as reentry programs.”

“Health care coverage is a prerequisite to health care access,” said Alison Yager, deputy executive director of Florida Health Justice Project. “Without access to needed mental and behavioral health treatment, far too many Floridians end up, quite inappropriately, in our state jails and prisons.  Expanding Medicaid is critical to correcting this injustice, and to ensuring continuity of care for low-income individuals with mental and behavioral health conditions.  Expanding Medicaid will not just restore dignity for large numbers of people, but it will also improve public safety, and save the state money.”

“Providing health care to the returning population is an investment that can help keep people from falling into the same destructive cycles. The money it would save the state is an added bonus,” said Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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