HHS offers flexibility in wake of Ala. tornadoes

In the wake of recent significant loss of life and property suffered by several states due to last week's horrific tornados and other storms, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Friday offered several options to speed Medicaid eligibility for those who may desperately need health services but have no means to pay for it.

In a letter to Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, Secretary Sebelius outlined ways states can immediately expand access to health care by providing temporary increases in Medicaid income eligibility limits and removing resource tests.  States can also allow residents who may have lost documents in the storm to certify their income and residency, and can delay the process of redetermining whether an individual remains eligible for Medicaid.  The Secretary urged states to consult with CMS central and regional offices to determine how best to meet their needs within available legal authority.

The Secretary provided a commitment that the department would expedite whatever federal approvals that states may need for state plan amendments or waivers, and that such authorities could be retroactive as early as the beginning of the disaster period.  Already, HHS says it is working closely with Alabama on a waiver to help residents in the hard-hit state access the health care that is needed.

HHS says it has a strong history of using the Medicaid program to help states during times of crisis and through the recovery process. Iowa received a fast-track waiver to suspend eligibility redeterminations and relax documentation requirements after 2008 floods across five counties created need for emergency medical services.  After the September 11, attacks, CMS quickly granted New York authority to create Disaster Relief Medicaid after the state's Medicaid computer systems were heavily damaged. The temporary program allowed the state to expand eligibility and expedite application processing.

Information Source: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services