Harvey Fails to Swamp Children’s Health Insurance Benefits

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By Victoria Pelham

Health officials are temporarily making it easier for children in Texas to access safety-net insurance in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and its devastating flooding.

CMS emergency provisions approved Sept. 1 will allow Texas officials to lift eligibility and cost-sharing requirements for kids enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program who live in areas damaged by the storm. The changes will give families leeway through continued access to CHIP coverage beyond their renewal period, a simplified CHIP application process allowing fewer steps for verification, and exempted enrollment fees and care copays, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The provisions are the latest in a series of steps taken by HHS officials to protect access to safety-net programs in Texas and Louisiana, declaring public health emergencies in the wake of Harvey.

Officials said the changes will be in place in counties declared to be disaster zones from Aug. 25 through Nov. 30 and beyond as needed. The Lone Star State’s proposal was expedited and approved in under 24 hours as a part of emergency response, according to the agency.

“We understand that this event has disrupted the lives of millions of Americans and we are working to expedite the states’ request to ensure that children enrolled in CHIP do not experience interruptions in their health coverage,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a Sept. 1 statement.

The provisions aim to fill a larger objective to “offer states affected by Hurricane Harvey a burden free, streamlined process for receiving approvals,” Verma said.

Portions of Section 1135 of the Social Security Act in Texas have also been waived, allowing providers to practice in a state they’re not licensed in and exempting providers from penalties for specific patient privacy regulations. The CMS has also changed deadlines and timetables to meet the needs of Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP enrollees so providers can offer services without penalties for noncompliance arising from the hurricane.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Sept. 1 that the agency has created federal medical stations throughout Texas, sent more than 460,000 pounds of medical equipment to affected areas, and been involved in evacuating hospitals and helping people reliant on equipment like wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. The HHS staff has cared for more than 1,000 patients in the hurricane’s wake.

Other efforts have included a Disaster Distress Helpline and a CMS policy change allowing facilities in Texas and Louisiana not yet licensed under Medicare to serve as dialysis facilities.

Uncertainty Over CHIP

CHIP enrollees especially face added uncertainty over coverage, with funding for the federal program set to expire at the end of this month without reauthorization.

The program covers 8.9 million children whose families fall in the gap between Medicaid eligibility and the ability to afford private coverage. Nearly 1.1 million kids were enrolled in the program in Texas in 2016, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

That congressional advisory group estimates states will begin to exhaust their federal CHIP allotments by December, with almost all running out of the funds by March 2018. Texas would likely exhaust its funds by April 2018, according to the MACPAC report.

The Senate Finance Committee will tackle CHIP reauthorization at a hearing Sept. 7.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Pelham in Washington at vpelham@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brian Broderick at bbroderick@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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