MEDICAID: Funds to Provide Coverage for Poor Go Unused
Although the federal government allocated "hundreds of millions of dollars" to help states provide health insurance for people leaving welfare, a new HHS report shows that $383 million of that money has not been claimed, the New York Times reports. As a result, many people who left the welfare rolls after the 1996 reforms, but still qualified for Medicaid, have not obtained coverage. "It's free money. We would really like to see states use it," HHS spokesperson Melissa Skolfield said. States can use the money for a wide range of activities designed to assist families in applying for Medicaid, but 21 states have spent less than 10% of the funds. "The collapse in the provision of Medicaid benefits to eligible children has been a significant disappointment," Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) said, referring to a 1996 congressional act that set aside $500 million to ensure that children and their parents would not lose Medicaid coverage when they left welfare. "There's clearly a problem here, and the states have money to fix it," Families USA lobbyist Joan Akler charged, citing confusion about eligibility rules and computer errors as reasons for the difficulties. But Matt Salo, a health policy expert at the National Governors' Association, blamed the federal government for the situation, arguing that officials had defined "very narrow acceptable uses" for the funds, which made it difficult for states to spend the money. He also insisted that states were taking "aggressive actions" to ensure that families receive Medicaid. A recent report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured found that Medicaid enrollment increased slightly between June 1998 and June 1999, but the figures were still below enrollment levels of June 1997 (Pear, 5/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.