NGA Supports Bill To Extend Medicaid Coverage to Hurricane Evacuees
The National Governors Association on Wednesday endorsed the Senate Finance Committee's bipartisan measure that would expand Medicaid coverage to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 9/22). Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Sept. 14 introduced the bill, which would cost an estimated $5 billion to $7 billion.
Under the legislation, 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 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.
Other states would be assured that their federal Medicaid matching rates would not decline next year. Survivors with annual incomes below the federal poverty level would be eligible for the coverage. Pregnant women and children from families with annual incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level also would be eligible for Medicaid.
The bill would eliminate any asset tests and would measure income moving forward. Further, the bill would establish a fund to help hurricane survivors with private health insurance pay their premiums and change Medicare and Medicaid laws so that survivors do not face penalties for missed application deadlines. In addition, the bill would eliminate copayments and deductibles for hospital services for elderly Medicare beneficiaries displaced by the hurricane.
The bill would not delay the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit for dual eligibles, as requested by some lawmakers. Dual eligibles' prescription drug coverage will be transitioned from Medicaid to Medicare starting on Jan. 1, 2006, as planned. However, HHS would be required to submit by Oct. 7 a written plan for how it will accomplish the transition for beneficiaries in states and counties affected by Hurricane Katrina (California Healthline, 9/15).
NGA in a letter to Grassley and Baucus wrote, "The nation's governors are very supportive of your relief package and appreciate that you have been willing to work with us in making sure the needs of our most vulnerable citizens are addressed." The association added that the bill would be "critical to help these individuals put their lives back together and retain some semblance of stability" (CongressDaily, 9/22).
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) on Wednesday voiced his support for the bill after meeting with Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Barbour said, "What they're talking about doing is what we need" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 9/21).
However, according to CongressDaily, the White House has "made clear it prefers dealing with the issue without a major legislative fix" and has stated that states can meet survivors' health care needs using Medicaid waivers (CongressDaily, 9/22). CMS Administrator Mark McClellan during a Tuesday speech at a Medicaid conference said the administration's approach -- negotiating waivers on a state-by-state basis -- "makes it easier for people who have been affected by the hurricane to get access to health care now without waiting for Congress to act" (CongressDaily, 9/21).
In addition, at least one unnamed senator has placed a hold on the Senate Finance Committee's package, according to Senate aides. A number of senators "are thought to have concerns about the costs of the bill," according to CongressDaily.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to discuss health care needs for hurricane survivors, CongressDaily reports.
Grassley on Wednesday said roadblocks for his legislation in Congress are "not irreversible" and added that he plans to talk to colleagues to gather their support for the measure (CongressDaily, 9/22).
Frist, who has been noncommittal about the bill, said, "When there's agreement it's the right thing to do, we'll take it to the floor" (CongressDaily, 9/21).
The Campaign for Mental Health Reform also has announced its support for the proposal, saying in a letter, "Enacting the Grassley-Baucus legislation and appropriating $750 million for emergency mental health needs are essential steps" (CongressDaily, 9/22).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on congressional efforts to expand Medicaid coverage to Hurricane Katrina survivors. The segment includes comments from Baucus; Grassley; McClellan; and Tim Westmoreland, former director of Medicaid under the Clinton administration (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/22). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.