WASHINGTON – The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to approve bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Michael Turner (R-OH) to give states flexibility to expand access to addiction treatment for individuals completing their time in jail or prison in order to help them transition back into society without overdosing on opioids. Specifically, the Medicaid Reentry Act (H.R. 4005) requires the Secretary of Health & Human Services to release guidance to state Medicaid directors on how to begin implementing these policies based on recommendations from a group of experts to improve care transitions for incarcerated individuals who are reentering society.
Rep. Tonko made the case for the bill during debate on the House floor, noting that its passage would mean, “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.”
“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,” said Congressman Turner. “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.”
During Energy & Commerce debate, Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) 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.
Rep. Tonko’s Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act (H.R. 3692) has been incorporated into a major House opioid bill H.R. 6. A vote on that legislation is expected later this week.