Officials Ease Policy On Access To Medicaid For Infants

Tuesday, March 20th 2007, 7:00 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In response to concerns that some babies may be missing out on essential health care, the Bush administration will issue a rule making it easier for the infants of non-citizens to gain access to services covered through Medicaid.

Typically, newborns of Medicaid beneficiaries are deemed automatically eligible for the health care program during their first year as long as the mother remains eligible.

Last year, federal officials said this automatic status would not extend to infants whose delivery was covered through emergency Medicaid. Such emergency care covers the labor and delivery expenses for many uninsured families, including illegal immigrants.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed course. The agency said any newborn whose mother is eligible for the emergency care will be deemed automatically eligible for Medicaid during the baby's first year of life.

The problem with the policy that had kicked in last year was that successfully applying for Medicaid can take months. Judith Solomon, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the standard for timely approval of a Medicaid application is 45 days. That's too long to wait, particularly for those children who have health problems, she said.

The state of Washington filed a lawsuit over the federal government's documentation policy for newborns in early March. The state contended that the policy violated the constitutional rights of the infants, who are U.S. citizens. Officials in Washington estimated that about 8,000 infants were affected by the policy.

``Delay in health care coverage or no coverage at all will ultimately cost more,'' said Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire in announcing the lawsuit.

Leslie V. Norwalk, acting administrator for the agency overseeing Medicaid, said it had heard the concerns that were being raised. The agency intends to modify its requirements so that all babies born in the United States whose deliveries are covered by Medicaid will be treated equally.

``Health care benefits are critical to the healthy development of newborn babies,'' Norwalk said.

Norwalk's announcement was also applauded by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington.

``Babies born in this country are clearly citizens, and I'm pleased the administration has ended the needless confusion on this issue,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.