The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association said in a letter to House and Senate leadership that expanding Medicaid would fight crime by providing professional care to the “significant percentage” of people in county jails suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland has been a vocal supporter of closing the health insurance coverage gap, publishing an opt-ed across the state last month.
“North Carolinians from all backgrounds who struggle with mental health conditions and addiction often wind up not in treatment, but in jail,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “This cycle comes with enormous costs for our law enforcement agencies, our economy, and our communities.”
Giving them taxpayer-funded health insurance “would likely reduce the number of individuals who commit those crimes,” Association Vice President and General Counsel Eddie Caldwell said in the letter. “This in turn would enhance public safety, not only for those individuals, but also for future potential victims of crime.”
“Let me share my perspective from inside the system. When inmates are in our custody they have access to mental health treatment and substance abuse classes. In fact, many become sober for the first time in their adult lives. We’ve not only heard their stories but we’ve lived it with many of them while incarcerated,” said Sheriff Holland. “Our agency with the support of our County Commissioners and local organizations have taken the appropriate steps to offer classes by qualified mental health and substance abuse counselors that help guide these incarcerated mothers, fathers, sons and daughters seek a sober and drug free life. What typically happens next is nothing less than tragic. More times than not, these inmates walk out of the doors of our facility and right back into society with nowhere to turn and with very little resources available to continue those services. Which, of course, too often leads to more trouble. Providing truly accessible health-care services, particularly treatment for mental illnesses and substance use disorders — as closing the gap would — is a promising way to reduce rates of reoffense. In fact, studies in states that have expanded Medicaid show that doing so has drastically reduced the rate of recidivism among inmates.”
Holland’s support of closing the health insurance coverage gap aligns with the Macon County Board of Commissioners who approved a resolution in support of the effort last year, as did the majority of all western NC counties. Last week, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners took that a step further and also endorsed current legislation, saying Medicaid expansion would “reduce rising health care-related economic pressures at the local level, increase the availability of care for patients, and help struggling rural hospitals.”
Both groups specifically backed the House Bill 149, a Senate proposal that combines Medicaid expansion with a rollback in state hospital regulations. HB 149 was endorsed by Senator Kevin Corbin and passed the North Carolina Senate nearly unanimously, with only one “no” vote. Whether or not Medicaid Expansion passes is now up to the North Carolina House, which has yet to take up the bill despite the short sessions scheduled to end in early July.