County Council backs legislation to allow inmates access to health benefits – Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Those housed in county jails or juvenile facilities while awaiting trial are ineligible for federal health benefits, and the Crow Wing County Board offered its support for changing the law during its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11 .

Cara Terry, director of community services, told commissioners in writing the resolution being considered that those in the Crow Wing County Jail include 58 pretrial detainees. Although presumed innocent under the U.S. constitution, these inmates do not have access to Medicaid, Medicare, Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and other programs, Terry said.

This is due to the Social Security Act’s Medicaid inmate exclusion policy, which does not distinguish between those in prisons and those in prisons. Meanwhile, Terry said people who can afford to post bail or bond to return home before trial remain eligible for benefits.

“So why is this a problem? Well, as we know, our local jails have become our one-stop treatment centers and some of our largest providers of behavioral health care in our community,” Terry said. “Our national mental health crisis is also concentrated in our county jails, so it’s not just a Crow Wing County problem, it’s a national problem.”

According to the draft resolution presented to the commissioners, about 11 million people come in and out of local jails each year, 60 percent of whom are pretrial detainees. This number has grown over the past few decades and is paralleled by those in prison suffering from mental illness, often co-occurring substance use disorders.

Those screened by in-house social workers at the Crow Wing County Jail included 43 percent reporting mental health needs and another 30 percent for substance use disorders, Terry said.

Commissioners Paul Koring, left, and Doug Hodge listen to Commissioner Steve Burrows speak at the Crow Wing County Board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

Chelsea Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“Access to federal health benefits for non-convicts would allow for better coordination of care and also reduce short-term costs to local taxpayers and long-term costs to the federal government,” the resolution states. “…Providing access to federal health benefits for those awaiting adjudications and convictions would help counties break the cycle of recidivism caused or exacerbated by untreated mental illness and/or substance use disorders such as this way will improve public safety.”

The impact on veterans is especially important, Terry said.

“What we know is that more than half of our justice-involved veterans have either a mental health condition, such as PTSD), anxiety or depression, or substance use disorders,” Terry said.

The show of support for three bills in Congress related to the issue is in response to a request from the National Association of Counties, a national organization that advocates for county priorities in federal policy. The bipartisan bills are the Medicaid Reentry Act, the Due Process Continuity of Care Act, and the Fairness in Prejudicial Health Coverage Act.

The Medicaid Reentry Act would allow Medicaid to pay for medical services provided to an incarcerated person in the 30 days prior to release. The Due Process Continuity of Care Act would allow pretrial detainees to receive Medicaid benefits at the state government’s option. The Pretrial Health Coverage Equity Act would remove restrictions under Medicaid, Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs on benefits for people in custody awaiting release from charges.

The County Council unanimously approved the resolution Tuesday. A behavioral health legislative package is expected to be considered by Congress at the end of the year.

CHELSEA PERKINS, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or

[email protected]

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