Rep. Turner Leads Bipartisan Legislation to Create a New Path for Addiction Assistance for Vulnerable Medicaid Population

I recently partnered with Democrat Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) to reintroduce bipartisan legislation, the Medicaid Reentry Act, that would provide Medicaid access to incarcerated individuals in Ohio and throughout the country for the 30 days before their release. This change establishes a foundation for treatment during incarceration, which law enforcement officials and medical providers both agree will address a growing problem contributing to recidivism and the opioid epidemic.   

I am an original cosponsor and co-author, of H.R. 955, the Medicaid Reentry Act. First introduced in 2017 by Congressmen Turner and Tonko as H.R. 4005, Congressman Turner continues to serve as the leading Republican sponsor of this much-needed legislation. The bill also has bipartisan support in the Senate from Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). 

In announcing this bipartisan, bicameral effort, Congressman I stated: 

"After many years of persistent advocacy, today I partnered with my colleague, Democrat Congressman Tonko to reintroduce the Medicaid Reentry Act, which will provide a pathway to access addiction treatment during incarcerated individuals' transition to society. Incarcerated individuals are 129 times more likely to overdose and die relative to the general population, and this devastating problem has undoubtedly worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. I am proud to champion this important bipartisan effort alongside Rep. Tonko. This landmark legislation will help reduce recidivism among incarcerated individuals and will work towards bringing America and Ohio one step closer to combatting the deadly opioid crisis."   

Congressman Paul Tonko issued a press release which stated in part: 

“I am profoundly grateful to my colleagues from both parties who have been steadfast in supporting this legislation. In particular, I thank Congressman Turner who, for six years, has championed this fight by bringing needed attention to the importance of addressing addiction that plagues incarcerated individuals. I look forward to our continued partnership working to combat the opioid crisis and advance this life-saving legislation.” 

The Medicaid Reentry Act has broad support from leading addiction treatment and correctional organizations, including: A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing), American Jail Association, The American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, The Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Central City Concern, CleanSlate Centers, Community Catalyst, Community Oriented Correctional, Health Services (COCHS) HIV Medicine Association, International Community Corrections Association, The Kennedy Forum, Legal Action Center, Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA), McShin Foundation, NACo, National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, National Council for Behavioral Health, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Health Care for the Homeless Council, The National Safety Council, National Sheriffs Association, Shatterproof, The Student Coalition on Addiction (SCA), Treatment Communities of America, Well Being Trust. 

American Psychiatric Association released a statement in support of the bill that stated:  

“People with substance use and other psychiatric disorders need continuity of treatment. Ensuring that people who’ve been incarcerated can continue to access health care when they return to the community will save lives,” said American Psychiatric Assocation President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. “Given the pandemic and the increase in overdose deaths we’re seeing overall, particularly among people who are incarcerated, we urge Congress to pass the Medicaid Reentry Act.” 

The Medicaid Reentry Act will expand coverage of Medicaid-covered health services to all eligible incarcerated individuals for the last 30 days prior to their release. Addiction treatment experts maintain that forming strong relationships with providers plays a central role in successful recovery from opioid and substance addiction. By allowing these individuals to receive treatment before their release, these individuals will form a strong rapport with an addiction treatment provider, prompting them to finish their treatment, break the cycle of addiction, and move forward with their lives.  

According to research conducted by the Addiction Science and Clinical Practice, drug overdose is the number one cause of death following release from the criminal justice system, and the majority of overdose deaths are opioid related. Similarly, a study in Washington State demonstrated that individuals released from prison had 129 times greater risk of drug overdose in the two weeks after the release relative to the general population.  

Recent reports have showed that Opioid deaths in Ohio are at a ten year high, and many national experts and organizations have sounded the alarm that a surge in opioid deaths may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, incarcerated population is already uniquely impacted by COVID-19 as incarcerated individuals often cannot achieve social distancing in their living environments. 

Adoption of the Medicaid Reentry Act as law would help address this challenge by allowing incarcerated individuals to seek both COVID-19 and addiction treatment.  

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