Bill could end Medicaid gap for inmates

MONTGOMERY – A bill in the Alabama Legislature sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) could decrease the number of people with mental illnesses in county jails.

Ward

Ward

Senate Bill 54 would eliminate a gap in Medicaid coverage that results from an arrest, Ward said.

“This came up for state inmates in the last session (of the Legislature) and passed for them, and now we’re extending it down to county inmates,” Ward said.

A person’s Medicaid benefits are terminated when they are arrested, and they have to go through the application and approval process again when they are released from jail, which can take months.

This situation often results in people with mental illnesses resorting to crime because they do not have access to needed medication, Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego said.

“If they don’t have their medication, they have a tendency to self-medicate through alcohol or whatever is available on the streets,” Samaniego said. “They’ll probably end up back in our facility by re-offending. We have a really big problem with the mentally ill ending up in jail.”

The bill, if passed into law, would allow for Medicaid benefits to be suspended instead of terminated.

“This would fill that gap so they can immediately get their meds,” Samaniego said.

While in custody, county governments foot the bills for medical care.

Ward said the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) and April Weaver (R-Brierfield).

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, Feb. 24, Ward said and added that he expects a full vote of the Senate on the bill some time this week.