Kentucky seeks to be first in the nation to treat substance use disorder in prisons using Medicaid dollars

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Kentucky has applied for a Medicaid waiver that would allow the use of Medicaid funding to treat substance use disorder in the state’s prisons and county jails. If approved, Kentucky would be the first in the nation to have such an arrangement. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander says it is critical for the state to take these steps to help those in need, as “what happens to one of us in a community happens to us all, and we need to be concerned about that.”

Friedlander says Medicaid has historically never let any federal funds to be spent on the incarcerated population. And currently, if someone in Kentucky’s prisons or jails is being treated for a behavioral health issue, the state picks up the tab.

In recent years, a growing argument is being made for individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) to be assigned to treatment first rather than incarceration, as it saves money and gets to the root the actual issue without impacting the individual’s criminal record.

When asked if this plan would technically be a “double whammy” on the budget as corrections and Medicaid continue to be two of the biggest spends in the state budget, Friedlander said he hopes the waiver will be just a piece of beginning to address the issues in a comprehensive way by helping those already incarcerated with SUD get the help they need as well as free up the state funds currently being used on this to invest in community services to help those struggling before they end up incarcerated.

An added benefit, Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services Commissioner Lisa Lee said, is when someone is treated behind bars with Medicaid dollars, they will be able to continue that treatment when they are released.

As for who would qualify for treatment under the waiver, Lee stated an individual has to have a primary diagnosis of substance use disorder to be eligible, adding that licensed staff at the Department of Corrections will be completing those assessments.

Watch the full interview with Friedlander and Lee to hear more about the waiver, when they expect it could be approved and implemented, their desired outcomes of the program, and much more here:

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Jacqueline Pitts
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