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States Ease Barriers To Medicaid, CHIP Enrollment, Survey Says

Updated at 10:55 a.m.

Half the states last year made it easier for children and their parents to enroll in Medicaid by streamlining enrollment and using technology advances to verify citizenship requirements, according to a report released Wednesday.

Medicaid is the state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled that covers about 60 million Americans. Starting in 2014, an additional 16 million Americans will become eligible for Medicaid as a result of the 2010 federal health overhaul.

The survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured also found that eight states expanded eligibility rules so more children would qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP (KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation). Three of the states—Illinois, Texas and Vermont– began covering lawfully residing immigrant children without first having them wait five years. CHIP helps more than 5 million children from low-income families whose incomes make them ineligible for Medicaid.

“States have made significant strides in covering children, but coverage options for low income adults remain limited,” said Samantha Artiga, co-author of the report and associate director of the commission. Only  18 states provide full Medicaid benefits to parents with incomes at or above the federal poverty level, $18,530 for a family of three, the report said.

The annual 50‐state survey of Medicaid programs, conducted with the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, found only two states reduced eligibility for Medicaid and CHIP. Arizona, which froze enrollment in its CHIP program in 2009, before the health law passed, continued the freeze; 129,000 children are on a waiting list for coverage. Last year, the state also froze enrollment in a temporary Medicaid program for adults without dependent children. Nevada ended a Medicaid expansion program that helped several hundred pregnant women and parents of children on Medicaid.

The federal health law prohibits states from cutting Medicaid and CHIP eligibility.  Nevada’s cut was allowed because it was only a temporary program.

Among the ways states made it easier to sign up for Medicaid were using clients’ Social Security information to verify citizenship, enhancing online application tools and eliminating a face-to-face interview requirement, the survey found.  Several states also began enrolling children in CHIP based on their eligibility for other government assistance programs such as food stamps.

Federal bonus payments helped spur states to simplify Medicaid enrollment and renewal. Last year, the federal government paid $300 million to 23 states.

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