California Healthline Rounds Up Medicaid Developments Related to Hurricane Katrina
California Healthline rounds up developments on the effect of Hurricane Katrina on state Medicaid programs and national Medicaid policy. Summaries appear below.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday began a two-day tour of shelters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to explain special health benefits being offered to hurricane evacuees, according to an HHS release. States will have the flexibility to enroll evacuees in programs including Medicaid without requiring documents such as tax returns or proof of residency.
Hurricane survivors without any identification or records "should be able to give their address or other simple form of attestation to be eligible," according to the release. Survivors can enroll by visiting the nearest state or local benefits office or state enrollment teams in many shelters, and they can receive information by calling toll-free phone numbers set up by states or by accessing the Web site govbenefits.gov (HHS release, 9/13).
State and federal officials are in a "tug of war" over the extent to which the federal government will reimburse states for providing Medicaid benefits to hurricane evacuees, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although the Bush administration has "signaled it wants to help" states with the financial burden, the White House "appears cool to any expansion" of Medicaid, according to the Journal.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he is "not convinced" that an expansion is necessary but added that it is "likely that the federal government is going to have to step up more."
Proposals being developed in Congress include a Senate Finance Committee bill that would increase funding for states, a bill written by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Joe Barton (R-Texas) that would provide states relief for what Barton called a "reasonable period of time" and a proposal from Democratic lawmakers that all displaced families be made eligible for Medicaid for the next six months to ensure health coverage (Lueck/Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 9/14).
Addressing the medical needs of as many as one million evacuees nationwide "looms as an enormous challenge," particularly because many are without their medical records, cannot contact their physicians and are "disproportionately likely to be needy and sicker than average," the Chicago Tribune reports.
Many employers from the region have been forced to close at least temporarily and face an uncertain future, meaning that even evacuees with employer-sponsored health insurance could lose their coverage. Meanwhile, public health programs such as Medicaid "don't typically pay for care out of state, but [they] now have hundreds of thousands of members in exactly those circumstances," according to the Tribune (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 9/14).