Grassley Considers More Limited Version of Medicaid Bill To Help Hurricane Katrina Survivors
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday said he was discussing a scaled-back version of legislation that would temporarily provide Medicaid benefits to all evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 9/29).
Under the original $8.7 billion proposal (S 1716) by Grassley and committee ranking member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the federal government for five months would pay 100% of Medicaid costs for survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama who have relocated to other states, with the option of extending the coverage for an additional five months. The federal government also would pay 100% of Medicaid costs through the end of 2006 for all beneficiaries in Louisiana, Mississippi and counties in Alabama that have been designated as disaster areas.
The bill also would expand Medicaid eligibility from traditional categories -- such as women and children -- to include poor, childless adults. In addition, the bill would create an $800 million fund for health care providers treating poor survivors (California Healthline, 9/29).
Grassley said he has met with Republicans who have blocked a vote on the measure three times because of concerns about the bill's cost. During a Wednesday meeting with Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.), Grassley said that some provisions in the bill go beyond the Medicaid expansion that was approved for New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Grassley is considering changes that would lower the bill's cost, such as moving funds already approved for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's health care spending to go toward Medicaid. Grassley said he is meeting with Bush administration officials, who have said they oppose the bill because the state-by-state waivers CMS has been approving make the legislation unnecessary (CongressDaily, 9/29).
In related news, HHS has approved a special waiver for Arkansas that will allow the state to provide Medicaid coverage to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.
Under the plan, low-income evacuees will receive Medicaid coverage for up to five months. Evacuees will be asked to declare their income and assets in a simplified application but will not be required to provide all of the standard documentation.
A spokesperson for Arkansas Medicaid said the state, to date, has been billed about $8,000 for services to evacuees. Beneficiaries will receive standard benefits packages, and they will be subject to out-of-pocket charges that other beneficiaries pay. The federal government so far has approved similar coverage for evacuees in several other states (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/30).
The following summarizes recent editorials and opinion pieces related to Medicaid and Medicare in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Baltimore Sun: The Grassley-Baucus bill "has to be more efficient and certainly more humane" than the waiver process favored by the Bush administration and some senators, a Sun editorial states. The editorial adds, "Disaster spending should be smart, but its primary goal is to relieve human suffering" (Baltimore Sun, 9/30).
- Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor: President Bush has vowed to cut the budget in order to pay for Katrina-related costs, but "longtime budget hawks aren't optimistic," Grier writes in a Christian Science Monitor opinion piece. Although the 2003 Medicare law is "Item 1 on the 'to cut' lists of fiscal conservatives," the "White House and GOP congressional leadership have ruled it off-limits" because it "remains one of ... Bush's foremost domestic policy achievements," Grier writes (Grier, Christian Science Monitor, 9/30).
Las Vegas Sun: The cost of the Grassley-Baucus bill "is nothing in comparison to the trillions of dollars in federal revenue lost through tax cuts," a Sun editorial states. The editorial asks, "Why the recalcitrance when it comes to doing something for the poor, especially poor people traumatized by the hurricanes?" (Las Vegas Sun, 9/29).
- David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle: The "squabbling" over how to provide health care to hurricane evacuees "could be avoided -- and people in need would already be receiving hassle-free treatment -- if the United States had ... universal health coverage for all," Lazarus writes in his "Lazarus at Large" column in the Chronicle. The Katrina disaster "painfully illustrates the dilemma all Americans face when they're unable to gain equitable access to the country's medical system," Lazarus writes (Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/30).