What’s Kehilla’s EJC Up To? We Want to See Medi-Cal Benefits Returned to Everyone Eligible Upon Release from Santa Rita County Jail

by Richard Speiglman

Members of Kehilla’s Economic Justice Committee (EJC) collected 200 signatures from congregants and friends entering Rosh Hashanah services this year.  Why?

The EJC has worked with colleagues on the Live Free Committee of Faith In Action – East Bay (formerly OCO) on criminal justice issues for the last few years.  EJC members are both particularly aware of problems with our county’s jail and feel a responsibility to do the best organizing job we can to both minimize the inhumanity of incarceration and reduce its use.

In this spirit, on October 29, Kehilla Community Synagogue and eleven other congregations located in Alameda County petitioned the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to firmly address this issue. Congregation by congregation submitted petitions in a processional. (See linked video below and  photo of EJC member Myrna Schwartz submitting Kehilla petitions.) The collective message was, “It is unconscionable and a detriment to successful re-entry into the community that persons leaving custody of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) do not have basic access to essential medical care.”  Committee members believe that improving conditions at re-entry will help folks resettle and in turn help prevent a possible next arrest and detention.

Medi-Cal.  Across the state, Medi-Cal benefits are suspended when someone is detained in jail or prison.  Those released within one year are entitled to immediate restoration of benefits.  Some other counties have figured out how to do this.  Ours has not.  ACSO has failed in its responsibility to work with the Alameda County Social Services Agency to initiate and oversee a timely reinstitution process.  This failure demands action by the County Board of Supervisors.

For those detained over 12 months, Medi-Cal is terminated.  The released detainee must make new application, including proof of eligibility, before benefits are reinstated.  The process in place at Santa Rita provides inadequate support to detainees and allows too many to return to the community without coverage.  This results in more emergency room visits for conditions that might have been prevented or treated earlier by a community doctor or other health provider.  This is poor public health.

Carry-over Medicines Must Be Provided.  Detainees suffering life-threatening illnesses – whether diabetes, HIV, TB, hypertension, depression, or another – are not assured carry-over medicines when they are released from Santa Rita jail.  Those requiring prescriptions before they can re-qualify for Medi-Cal must pay out-of-pocket for potentially expensive drugs.  Even the state prisons provide a 30-day supply of prescription medications upon release; yet ACSO releases many without the medications they need to function.  Without Medi-Cal, this can amount to a death sentence.

Only the Board of Supervisors has the authority to fix this problem.  It must require ACSO, in collaboration with Alameda County Social Services and Health Care Services Agencies, to:

  1. At release from jail, immediately restore Medi-Cal benefits suspended during detention.
  2. During detention, initiate the process of Medi-Cal restoration for those who have had insurance terminated.
  3. For those potentially eligible for Medi-Cal coverage but who entered Santa Rita without it, support application for coverage as early as possible, making benefits available at release.
  4. Ensure that every person released leaves with a 30-day supply of prescription medications. 

Compassion.  Those signing the petition through Kehilla did so “with compassion” and asked the Board of Supervisors to “reflect the highest values of our community by ensuring the timely resumption and provision of healthcare benefits to some of the neediest among us.”

Medi-Cal is important, but it’s not the only pervasive problem in our justice system.  Join us in November as we pursue our second-round pressure on this issue with the Board of Supervisors, and then help us as we move on to choose our next demand and organize appropriate action.  Check the weekly Kehilla emails and Rabbi David’s Social Action Opportunities email for details.

The EJC meets next on Thursday, November 14, 2019, 7 pm in the back classroom on the Sanctuary level.  Contact EJC Chair Karen Rachels, karenrachels@gmail.com, for more detail.

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