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With Federal Support, States Hold Steady in Medicaid and CHIP Coverage Policies for Low-Income Children and Families Despite Recession « » The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

With Federal Support, States Hold Steady in Medicaid and CHIP Coverage Policies for Low-Income Children and Families Despite Recession

New 50-State Survey Finds Some States Make Targeted Expansions to Strengthen Coverage and Achieve Efficiencies as They Prepare for Health Reform

WASHINGTON — Despite tight budgets, nearly all states maintained or made targeted expansions or improvements in their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) eligibility and enrollment rules in 2010, preserving the programs’ ability to provide coverage to millions of low-income Americans who otherwise lack affordable options, according to a new survey released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured (KCMU).

The 10th annual KCMU 50-state survey of Medicaid and CHIP eligibility rules, enrollment and renewal procedures and cost sharing practices, this year conducted with the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, found that coverage policies held steady or in some cases expanded, particularly for low-income children. However, eligibility for their parents and other low-income adults continued to lag behind. The stability of such programs during a recession that has produced sharp increases in unemployment and declines in state tax revenues arises in large part from the temporary federal fiscal relief for Medicaid provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

That enhanced federal assistance, which will end in July, was tied to requirements for states to maintain Medicaid coverage policies. To help provide a base for the future Medicaid expansion, the health reform law also requires states to maintain public coverage for adults until broader health reform goes into effect in 2014 and until 2019 for children. However, in the coming year states continue to face significant budget pressures as demand for the programs remains high and state revenues continue to be depressed amidst the slow economic recovery.

“Millions of American families have turned to Medicaid and CHIP as incomes have declined after losing jobs and the health insurance that often goes with them,” said Diane Rowland, Executive Vice President of the Foundation and Executive Director of the KCMU. “Keeping these programs stable and strong has helped protect children and avoid an even larger increase in the nation’s 50 million uninsured, and will be key to ensuring the success of health reform implementation over the next few years.”

Coverage Policies Held Steady or Expanded in 2010, Especially For Children

The survey found that 49 states, including D.C., held steady or made targeted improvements in their Medicaid and CHIP eligibility rules and enrollment procedures. A total of 13 states expanded eligibility, largely for children, and 14 states made improvements in enrollment and renewal procedures to reduce burdens on families and streamline administrative processes.

Without the enhanced federal funding and maintenance-of-effort requirements in the ARRA and health reform laws, it is likely that more states would have made cutbacks in coverage to cope with budget pressures. Two states — Arizona and New Jersey — did make reductions that were not subject to the requirements in the laws.

Coverage for Low-Income Adults Continues to Lag Behind

The survey finds that as of January 1, 2011, 25 states, including D.C., cover children in families with incomes at least up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,775 for a family of three in 2010), continuing a decade of progress in covering children. However, coverage for their parents lags behind. The median Medicaid eligibility threshold for parents nationally remains at 64 percent of the federal poverty level, and 16 states limit eligibility for parents to those in families that earn below 50 percent of the federal poverty level ($9,155 for a family of three in 2010).

Until health reform passed, states could not cover adults without dependent children in Medicaid programs without a waiver. The new law ends the historic exclusion of these adults through a Medicaid eligibility expansion to a national floor of 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($24,352 for a family of three and $14,404 for an individual in 2010). Although the law won’t take full effect until 2014, last year Connecticut and D.C. took advantage of the new option to begin covering these adults by moving into Medicaid low-income adults whom they had previously covered only with state and local dollars. Also, California received approval for a waiver to continue and expand county initiatives that cover low-income adults. A few other states, including Minnesota, also have pending plans to take advantage of the new option to provide Medicaid coverage to adults. Even with these efforts, as of January 1, only seven states (Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, New York and Vermont) provided Medicaid or Medicaid-equivalent benefits to adults without dependent children.

In the absence of further expansions over the next couple of years, most uninsured, low-income adults will remain unable to qualify for Medicaid until health reform goes into effect in 2014.

States are Incorporating Technology into Their Programs, but Have More Work Ahead

The survey finds that states continue to adopt technology to modernize their programs. Many of these improvements have helped to reduce barriers to enrollment and renewal for families, while also streamlining administrative processes and achieving administrative efficiencies. For example, about half of the states (29) took advantage of a new option to rely on an electronic data match with the Social Security Administration to more efficiently and accurately verify citizenship status of applicants for Medicaid and CHIP. The survey also found states making progress in using electronic data matches to verify other aspects of eligibility.

Yet states still have a significant amount of work to do, the survey finds. The new health reform law calls upon states to implement an integrated, web-based, technology-driven enrollment process for Medicaid, CHIP, and coverage in the new health insurance Exchanges. While all states make their Medicaid application available online, only slightly more than half (29) allow for the application to be electronically submitted with an electronic signature and most of these still require families to submit paper documentation via mail or fax. In light of a rule proposed by the Administration at the end of 2010 to provide states with a 90% federal matching rate to prepare their Medicaid eligibility systems for health reform, new grant funding, and the likelihood of additional guidance and funding opportunities in the months ahead, more activity in this area is expected in the coming year.

Today’s report, Holding Steady, Looking Ahead: Annual Findings of a 50-State Survey of Eligibility Rules, Enrollment and Renewal Procedures, and Cost-Sharing Practices in Medicaid and CHIP, 2010-2011, and related materials from today’s public briefing on the survey findings, are available online. In addition, an archived webcast of a public briefing will be available on the website after 4 p.m. ET today.
The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, California, dedicated to producing and communicating the best possible information and analysis on health issues.

The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured provides information and analysis on health care coverage and access for the low-income population, with a special focus on Medicaid’s role and coverage of the uninsured. Begun in 1991 and based in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Washington, D.C. office, the Commission is the largest operating program of the Foundation. The Commission’s work is conducted by Foundation staff under the guidance of a bipartisan group of national leaders and experts in health care and public policy.