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Lawmakers aim to tap Medicaid for novel nutrition, prisoner health care programs

Food insecure folks and incarcerated individuals would benefit under a pair of bills.

Both call for the Department of Human Services to submit Section 1115 waivers to the federal government for Medicaid assistance. The waiver program is designed to address social determinants of health, such as housing, nutrition, and conditions that contribute to poor health.

Sponsored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls), each was held over Thursday by the House Human Services Finance Committee for possible inclusion in a larger bill. Noor chairs the committee.

HF3639 would provide medically tailored, home-delivered meals or pantry items to children, pregnant women, and others who qualify, including individuals exiting incarceration. It would also provide nutrition counseling and education.

HF3642 would extend Medicaid coverage for care transition services to incarcerated individuals, should they qualify, during the 30 days prior to their expected release. The provision would assist individuals with chronic physical or behavioral health conditions who are at high risk of poor health and frequent emergency room visits and hospital admission, whether or not they have been convicted.

“Under federal law, Medicaid funds and services cannot be utilized for healthcare provided to inmates of jails, prisons, or youth correctional facilities except in cases requiring a hospital stay,” wrote Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt in support. “Consequently, individuals with mental illness, who constitute approximately half of our jail population, often experience disruptions or changes in their treatment.”

Twenty-six aid, health, and government organizations signed a collective letter of support for the nutrition provisions in HF3639.

“The 1115 waiver will enable Minnesotans to address unique challenges while developing tailored programs,” wrote Leah Hebert Welles, CEO of Open Arms of Minnesota. “This flexibility is essential for promoting better health outcomes [and] reducing overall healthcare costs statewide. Most importantly it will provide support for those who are facing insurmountable challenges.”

The waiver programs come with matching federal support of approximately 50%. Other states have also applied for this program to afford housing, climate, and nutritional support for people experiencing homelessness, extreme weather events, or exiting incarceration. 

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