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Access to Healthcare for People Returning to the Community after Incarceration

Posted May 26, 2023
4:35 pm

By Jennifer Kinsley Smith and Elizabeth Lattner

A dedicated group of staff and volunteers at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland have been hard at work addressing barriers faced by individuals returning to their communities from incarceration. For these individuals, coming home is an overwhelming process with barriers at every turn. Lack of access to safe and stable housing, overwhelming debt, troubled family relationships, and limited or non-existent job opportunities are some of the most common concerns that individuals identify when preparing to leave incarceration. Perhaps one of the most dangerous barriers to successful reentry is lack of access to affordable healthcare.

When someone is incarcerated for more than 30 days, the law allows for that individual’s Medicaid benefits to be suspended. When this process works as it was meant to, Medicaid benefits are un-suspended before individuals leave incarceration and return to the community. Unfortunately, through many client stories, we have learned that Medicaid benefits are not being restored. Further, individuals who entered incarceration without healthcare coverage are not being assisted with Medicaid enrollment before release, denying them access to medical care that they had been receiving during incarceration. This is especially harmful to people who have substance use disorder diagnoses, mental illness, or other behavioral health concerns.

We know that there is an increased risk for worse health outcomes including death in the two weeks immediately following release from incarceration. These risks, combined with client reports of difficulty accessing healthcare, prompted Legal Aid staff to create the Health Equity for Reentering Ohioans (HERO) Project. The HERO team is a group of Legal Aid staff who work together with medical professionals, community care providers, and other volunteers to identify and problem solve healthcare related barriers to successful reentry.

In June of 2022, the HERO project team published an issue brief summarizing their year of research on the extent of this problem. In the year since that publication, the team has focused on outreach to the community to reach those impacted by these issues.

Individuals who have had issues accessing healthcare following incarceration due to Medicaid suspension or termination, or lack of connection to Medicaid or Medicare prior to release should contact Legal Aid by calling 888.817.3777.

The HERO issue brief - Eliminating Barriers to Healthy Reentry for Ohioans – is available on Legal Aid’s website: Legal Aid report: Eliminating Barriers to Healthy Reentry for Ohioans

This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 39, Issue 1, in May 2023. See full issue at this link: “The Alert”- Volume 39, Issue 1 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

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