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Sheriffs, Franken criticize Medicaid gaps for jail inmates

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Sheriffs organizations in Minnesota and elsewhere criticized policies that allow those who are able to post bail maintain Medicaid coverage, while others who remain in custody lose it.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken urged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to revise access to Medicaid for pretrial detainees who've been arrested but not tried or convicted.

"None of these people have been convicted of the crime they've been charged with, they just couldn't afford to post bond," Franken said at an event in Washington, D.C. "So they're sitting in jail and they're also very often in desperate need of immediate medical attention."  

The Major County Sheriffs' Association, National Sheriffs' Association and the National Association of Counties decried what they called "increased bureaucratic government red tape" with the federal program that pays health care costs for low-income people.

Stanek is working with Franken, a Democrat, to secure additional funding to care for the 200 to 300 inmates dealing with mental illness in the Hennepin County Jail on any given day. 

"Current federal law cuts many of these individuals off from Medicaid funding the moment they are booked into our jail," Stanek said. "This creates an unnecessary gap in health care coverage for those that are the most vulnerable and in need of health care related services."

Minnesota counties foot the bill if inmates continue to receive treatment behind bars. The Association of Minnesota Counties estimates county governments spend millions of dollars every year on medical treatment in jails.