House Approves Turner-Tonko Pre-Release Addiction Treatment Bill

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed by voice-vote bipartisan legislation sponsored by Paul Tonko (NY-20) and I to give states flexibility to expand access to addiction treatment for individuals completing their time in jail or prison. The Medicaid Reentry Act (H.R. 4005) would develop best practices to help incarcerated individuals successfully transition back into society and remain drug free. Specifically, the legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release guidance to State Medicaid directors, developed by a group of stakeholder experts, on policies to improve transitional substance use disorder care for incarcerated individuals who are reentering society.

The issue of incarcerated individuals losing their ability to access Medicaid funding for substance abuse treatment was brought to my attention by the Greene County sheriff. Since then, I have introduced and fought tirelessly for legislation remedying this issue. House passage of the Medicaid Reentry Act is a huge step forward in helping these vulnerable individuals get the treatment they need.

Congressman Tonko outlined the bill’s purpose during debate on the House floor, noting that under the bill, “Individuals could better access mental health and addiction care and have an improved care transition back into the community. By passing this bill, we can allow states to expand innovative approaches to reentry that are already underway in places such as New York, Ohio, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. I’d like to thank our Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and Ranking Member Pallone and their staffs for the constructive collaboration on this bill, and I’d also like to thank my Republican co-lead, Rep. Mike Turner, for his efforts to help shine a light on this vulnerable population.”

During Energy & Commerce debate, Committee Chairman Greg Walden (OR-2) expressed strong support for the bill, saying, “We will continue our discussions going forward but this is a really sound piece of legislation, the amendment improves upon the underlying bill with the substitute, and I am fully in support of it.”

Individuals suffering from substance use disorder are roughly 129 times more likely to die of an overdose in the first two weeks after release from prison compared to the general population. The risk of overdose is elevated during this period due to reduced physiological tolerance for opioids among the incarcerated population, a lack of effective addiction treatment options while incarcerated, and poor care transitions back into the community.

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