Pa. to help ease transition for inmates addicted to drugs

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jan 5, 2016 3:50 AM

(Harrisburg) -- When a person goes to state prison, they lose Medicaid benefits -- and it can take up to 30 days to get them re-enrolled in the program when they are released.

Department of Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas says if his agency can reduce or eliminate that waiting period, it'll be easier for people addicted to drugs to get help.

That can include inpatient or outpatient care, counseling, or vital medication that can keep people from going back to heroin, and maybe eventually returning to prison.

Dallas says the change should happen by the middle of this year.

"And that we'll also want to make sure that when we do that, that folks are aware of it, so that there's a warm hand-off that when you leave a state correctional facility, that you know that you can go to a county assistance office and get health care."

Dallas says it will take complicated IT changes to make the switch work, but didn't know what it might cost.

"Make it so that we're essentially suspending the benefit instead of cancelling the benefit. Right, they didn't get any richer while they were prison, right? So we would suspend the benefit and be able to turn it on much more quickly after they leave," he adds.

The state plans to expand the program to county jails as well, but he admits it will be more complicated because of the rapid turnover in county facilities.

The Department of Corrections estimates about 12-percent of inmates in state prison are addicted to drugs.

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