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Medicaid change protested; Directive tightens family coverage.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Thousands of children from lower-income families in the state could be left without health care coverage starting next year, under a new federal Medicaid directive that Gov. Deval L. Patrick wants to see rescinded.

The governor is expected to testify today at a congressional committee hearing about the directive that would limit federal health coverage for children to those from families earning less than 250 percent of the poverty level.

Two years ago, under the terms of a federally authorized waiver, the state began providing coverage for children from families earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level (about $38,500 for a family of three) as part of the state's health insurance reforms.

But the directive from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services imposes significant new restrictions that would prevent new enrollments of children from households with incomes between 250 percent and 300 percent of poverty level starting in March 2009.

Mr. Patrick will testify about the role the federally-funded States Children's Health Insurance Program has played in expanding health care in Massachusetts, and about the state`s mandatory health insurance program before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

He is expected to recommend SCHIP be reauthorized and that the Bush administration rescind the new Medicaid directive, so Massachusetts can continue enrolling children from households with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty level.

Since Massachusetts expanded children's health care coverage to those from households earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level, an additional 18,000 children have been provided medical coverage in the state.

The directive is expected to at least delay enrollment for children in the gap between 250 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level, while the problem is worked on next year, even while their parents are covered by other features of the state's health care program.

The governor is also expected to recommend that several other regulations that could shift as much as $15 billion in health care costs from the federal government to the states also be changed.

Mr. Patrick, who is in Washington to attend the national governors conference, met yesterday along with U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, to begin talks over renewal of a three-year federal waiver from Medicaid rules needed to expand health care programs as part of the state's universal health care reforms. That waiver is set to expire in June.

"This was a constructive first meeting and good start on the process of renewing the Massachusetts waiver," Mr. Kennedy said in a statement after the meeting. "Massachusetts has defied the odds and is leading the nation on providing good affordable health care for our citizens. I look forward to working with the governor and the Bush administration to continue our progress," he added.

Mr. Patrick also said the meeting was "very positive and productive" and included talk of both the successes so far and challenges facing the program. He said Mr. Leavitt has aided the state with "his strong partnership" from the start of the program three years ago.

The change: The directive imposes significant new restrictions that would prevent new enrollments of children from households with incomes between 250 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level, starting in March 2009.

The coverage:

Since Massachusetts expanded children's health care coverage to those from households earning up to 300 percent of the poverty level, an additional 18,000 children have been provided medical coverage in the state.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 26, 2008
Words:592
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