Senators Introduce Compromise Bill To Extend Medicaid Coverage to Hurricane Survivors
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Wednesday introduced a compromise, bipartisan measure that would temporarily extend Medicaid coverage to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, CongressDaily reports (Rovner/Heil, CongressDaily, 9/15). The bill, estimated to cost $5 billion to $7 billion, would have the federal government for five months 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.
In addition, 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 (CQ Today, 9/15). Other states would be assured that their federal Medicaid matching rates would not decline next year (CongressDaily, 9/15).
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 (CQ Today, 9/15).
The bill also would eliminate any asset tests and would measure income moving forward, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/15). 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 (CQ Today, 9/15). In addition, the bill would eliminate copayments and deductibles for hospital services for elderly Medicare beneficiaries displaced by the storm (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 9/15).
The bill would not delay the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit for dual eligibles, as was requested by Democrats. 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.
"This package will give desperately needed relief," Grassley said, adding, "It offers immediate health coverage for every individual in need" (CongressDaily, 9/15). Grassley said, "We have to prevent more hardship, and we feel this bill will respond to those hardships" (CQ Today, 9/15).
Baucus said, "[T]he most effective and efficient health care system is Medicaid. We don't have to invent a whole new program" (CongressDaily, 9/15).
According to CQ Today, the bill has the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement backing the measure (CQ Today, 9/15). The bill is expected to pass the Senate, but its prospects "are much less clear in the House, where leaders have been discussing a much less far-reaching package," CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 9/15).