Monday, January 30, 2023

By Don Sapatkin

Happy Monday, MindSite News readers. California will become the first state in the country able to provide Medicaid coverage to incarcerated people. New York’s mayor releases a plan for mental health services for the city’s public schools. And country singer Chase Rice gets real – and powerful – about mental health.

All that and more in today’s MindSite News Daily.

US health agency approves Medicaid coverage for incarcerated Californians, a historic move 

In a major policy change with the potential to save the lives of thousands of people being released from jails and prisons, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week approved California’s request to provide Medi-Cal coverage to prisoners before release. Medi-Cal is the state’s version of Medicaid, the federally supported health insurance program for people with low incomes or disabilities.

The federal action will enable Medi-Cal to pay for substance-use treatment in jails, prisons and youth correctional facilities. The state also will be able to connect incarcerated people to community-based Medicaid providers 90 days before their release so they can continue their treatment after they return to the community.

Historically, people have been barred from enrolling in Medicaid while incarcerated, and they have a hard time doing so in the chaotic days after getting out. Lack of health care, combined with a history of long-term opioid addiction puts recently released inmates at extraordinary risk of death from overdose, as well as heart disease and other conditions. In the first two weeks following release, their risk of death was more than 12 times higher than the general population’s, mostly from overdoses, one study found.

So far, 15 states have applied to CMS for permission to provide Medicaid coverage behind bars. California was the first to win approval, but services there won’t be available until at least 2024, according to a report from Tradeoffs, which produces weekly health policy podcasts. MindSite News editor Rob Waters looked at the health risks faced by people leaving prison and jail – and the work of programs that are part of the Transitions Clinic Network – in 2019 stories for Health Affairs and  The Washington Post.

Country singer Chase Rice out with a powerful song about mental health – and getting support

Country singer-songwriter Chase Rice says his latest song, “Bench Seat,” is “the darkest but most real thing I’ve ever done.” The accompanying music video – which Music Mayhem Magazine says is worthy of Music Video of the Year – explores mental health struggles through the story of Rice’s college buddy, who nearly took his own life.

Rice said it was a single moment, when his friend was in a really dark place, that led him to write the song. “His dog came and laid his head on his lap, and that connection saved him.”

All high school students in New York to get access to telehealth mental health services, mayor says

Every high school student in New York City will be able to get mental health support ranging from “telehealth care to community-based counseling depending on their individual needs,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a State of the City address. The pledge marked his first major efforts to address student wellbeing, Chalkbeat New York reported. Adams called it “the biggest student mental health program in the country.”

An outline of the “Working People’s Agenda” released by the mayor’s office said his administration was developing a three-part mental health plan focused on child and family mental health, severe mental illness and an “upstream approach” to the opioid crisis. The city plans to open clubhouses for residents with severe mental illness that would include peer support and access to various services as an alternative to living on the street. It will also dedicate $150 million in opioid settlement funds toward harm reduction and treatment programs for people with substance use disorders.

Many significant details of the school mental health initiative were missing or still need to be worked out, experts told Chalkbeat. Will high school telehealth sessions, for example, operate as virtual drop-in centers where students can share their feelings, or more as traditional counseling sessions? Despite the lack of details, experts interviewed by Chalkbeat were pleased and cautiously optimistic.

In other news…

All the mental health stats your brain can handle: 21 million adults in the U.S. are living with depression, 12 million with post-traumatic stress disorder, 3.3 million with bipolar disorder, roughly 1.5 million with schizophrenia, and a whopping 42.5 million with a range of conditions classified as anxiety disorders. Small wonder that one of every eight ER visits involves mental health or substance use. Mood disorders drive most hospitalizations for Americans under 45. This Forbes rundown has enough mental health data to give you a solid education – and shock an entire cocktail party.

Lawsuits aim to force Texas to improve conditions for state prison inmates: Male death-row inmates are suing the state for automatically placing and keeping 168 of them in solitary confinement 22 hours a day without case-by-case assessments, according to Texas Public Radio. They want long-term solitary declared unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Dallas County formally notified the state attorney general’s office that it will file suit in 30 days if the state does not reduce the 300-person waiting list of county jail inmates who have been found incompetent to stand trial and should be transferred to state psychiatric facilities, the Dallas Morning News reported. The jail last week held 369 inmates who need clinical help to regain competency before their trials can start.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...