Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Group says kids were wrongly denied Medicaid

Group says kids were wrongly denied Medicaid

Elizabeth Pierson
Valley Freedom Newspapers

AUSTIN — About 3,800 Texans, most of them children, were denied health care through Medicaid during the first three months of a new federal rule that requires proof of citizenship, according to an advocacy group for families.

Medicaid applicants since July 2006 have had to show proof they are U.S. citizens, whereas previously they had only to say they were citizens. The result has been that thousands of eligible citizens who qualify for Medicaid have been rejected because they can’t access their birth certificates in other states, or because state officials aren’t confirming their births in this one, said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Austin-based Texas Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The data Dunkelberg received from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission do not confirm how many of the 3,800 rejected applications came from illegal immigrants. She can’t say with certainty that none were illegal immigrants, but experience tells her the number was at most very low, she said.

“After 20 years of policy work on health, we have a hard time getting just families of non-U.S. citizens to come in and try to qualify,” Dunkelberg said. “There have never been large numbers of people coming in and trying to fake out the Medicaid system.”

Medicaid is the federal-state health care program for low-income adults and children. It serves 1.9 million children in Texas , including more than 200,000 children in the Rio Grande Valley , as of May 2006, the latest data available.

Officials at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission are looking into the numbers brought to light by the CPPP, said spokesman Ted Hughes. “I don’t know for sure yet whether we have such a number, where we could definitively say, ‘These people were denied because they couldn’t prove citizenship,’” he said.

Dunkelberg said the data she received from the state did not separate the 3,800 people by geographic region. It did show that two-thirds were children and 200 were infants younger than 1 year old. State rules require speedy enrollment of qualified babies born in Texas . Dunkelberg thinks many who were denied would have qualified but couldn’t have their birth certificates sent promptly from another state, she said.

Others may be victims of recent downsizing of state eligibility workers. State workers who are left processing applications may not know they can search Texas ’ electronic database of birth certificates to confirm whether a child was born here, Dunkelberg said.

State workers routinely check the database, Hughes said. “It’s a standard practice to check that election database assuming there’s no other document offered,” he said.

Dunkelberg said the state has dealt well with the federal policy, for the most part. “I think they’ve done about as good a job that a state can do,” Dunkelberg said. “I think it’s an unfortunate federal policy that wasn’t well thought-out.”

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