JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Incarcerated individuals will no longer have to forfeit state Medicaid benefits upon being jailed if otherwise still eligible for MO HealthNet, thanks to a new provision signed into law Thursday. 

The measure included in SB 514 — signed by Gov. Mike Parson Thursday afternoon — mandates MO HealthNet benefits must be suspended, rather than terminated or cancelled, for people who are entering a jail or other correctional facility and are otherwise still eligible to receive such insurance. That suspension will then end once the person is released from jail. 

State Sen. Lincoln Hough

It’s up to the Department of Corrections to notify the Department of Social Services within 20 days of receiving information that a MO HealthNet receiver will be incarcerated and within 45 days prior to the release of the individual. 

The provision was attached to Republican Sen. David Sater’s SB 514, an omnibus package modifying several provisions related to healthcare. But the particular measure was a priority for Sen. Lincoln Hough, who had filed a standalone bill with the same changes as well.  

“This was an idea that I learned about while serving as county commissioner, and frankly, it’s just one of those things that makes sense if we want to help people re-entering be successful,” Hough told The Missouri Times. 

Hough noted the changes put Missouri in line with most other states that simply suspend Medicaid benefits for incarcerated people. By allowing people the ability to immediately reactive health insurance again, individuals will have greater access to treatment for both physical and mental health needs. 

“Individuals leaving confinement with access to healthcare are less likely to return to jail or prison than individuals who re-enter society without access,” Hough said. 

Changing how that state handles its Medicaid benefits for imprisoned individuals has been a priority for criminal justice reform advocates. 

Liza Grote Weiss, the executive director of Missouri Appleseed, previously told The Missouri Times people could forfeit MO HealthNet benefits without even a conviction. 

“SB 514 will improve the continuity of care for individuals reentering society, reduce recidivism, and reduce costs to the state,” Weiss said after the bill signing.

Parson has signed dozens of bills this week ahead of the July 14 veto deadline, including other criminal justice reform measures

“This year’s legislative session was marked by historic progress on major issues that impact all Missourians,” Parson said in a statement announcing the signing of SB 514. “I applaud the General Assembly for their hard work and leadership over the past several months. It was an honor to stand with them this week as we officially signed these milestones into law.”