Emmer, Turner offer bipartisan bill to provide pre-trial detainees with mental health coverage

U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Mike Turner (R-OH) on Feb. 7 introduced a bipartisan bill that would nix a Medicaid coverage exclusion for pre-trial detainees, who currently make up roughly two-thirds of people held in local jails.

Rep. Emmer and Rep. Turner signed on as original cosponsors of the Due Process Continuity of Care Act, H.R. 6636, which is sponsored by U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-MD). U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) is also one of the bill’s 12 original cosponsors.

If enacted, H.R. 6636 would amend the Social Security Act to remove the Medicaid coverage exclusion for inmates in custody pending disposition of charges, according to the text of the bill.

“For the more than approximately 20 percent of inmates in our nation’s jails with mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD), treatment isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Rep. Emmer said. “However, current law prohibits incarcerated individuals from accessing federal health benefits when they are behind bars — even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.

“This means that patients are forced to abandon existing routines of care, often having to begin new treatment regimens with new and frequently overburdened health providers associated with the jails where they’re being held,” said Rep. Emmer. “Consistent and proper care for mental health and SUD is not only in line with the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, it will also make our communities safer. It’s time we fixed this oversight and ensure these individuals have a chance to heal.”

Rep. Turner also pointed out that H.R. 6636 would help address the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis by fixing “an unconstitutional flaw” in the Medicaid system.

“The current Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy perpetuates a dangerous cycle of treatment interruption and recidivism,” said Rep. Turner. “I am proud to support this reform that provides pretrial inmates the medical treatment they need to recover from opioid abuse disorders.” 

The bill is endorsed by Major County Sheriffs of America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Counties, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the R Street Institute, and Successful Reentry.