State officials are beginning the process to apply for a Medicaid waiver in order to provide health care services to inmates about to be released from county jails and state prisons.

If approved, the services would begin a month before an inmate is released and would cover health conditions, including serious mental illnesses, HIV/AIDS, or opioid use disorder or multiple chronic physical or behavioral health conditions.

“For incarcerated individuals leaving prisons and jails, it is critical that they receive the healthcare services they need for a seamless transition to life outside the correctional facility,” said Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “Ensuring continuous healthcare coverage for criminal justice involved populations with serious health conditions will make our communities both healthier and safer.”

The public comment period of the waiver application to the U.S. Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services began on Wednesday. The proposal was initially contained in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 State of the State announcement.

Services provided if the waiver is approved would include Medicaid-covered benefits like care management, referals and appointments with health providers and linkages to social services and peer supports. In addition, a medication management plan and higher priority medications for chronic conditions.

For criminal justice reform supporters, providing health care services while an inmate is in the process of transitioning to leaving a jail or prison facility and provide them with “bridging care.”

“Approval of this Medicaid waiver would provide incarcerated individuals returning home from prison with a continuity of health care, breaking down a significant barrier to a successful reentry and helping to keep our communities healthy and safe.,” said Acting Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci.

The DOH pointed to people who have been in prison and jail populations having higher rates of visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, saying it would offset any increase in Medicaid spending by reductions in the use of those services.

One in 70 people are hospitalized a week after they are released from a prison or jail, according to the National Institute of Health, while one in 12 people are hospitalized within three months — far higher rates than the average population.