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Senators Introduce Legislation Expanding Medicaid Assistance for Hurricane Katrina Victims

Expedited Eligibility and Expanded Mental Health Services Included

September 16, 2005

Today a bipartisan coalition of Senators introduced legislation to temporarily expand eligibility and services for Medicaid in response to Hurricane Katrina.  The legislation includes expanded federal matching funds (i.e., a 100% federal matching rate) through December 31, 2006 for Louisiana, Mississippi and impacted counties in Alabama.  In addition, the legislation creates a 5-month period eligibility for individuals and families that have been relocated out of state as a result of Katrina -- with a possible subsequent 5-month extension. 

ACTION REQUIRED

Advocates are strongly encouraged to contact their Senators and urge support for the Grassley-Baucus Emergency Medicaid Relief Package.  A special toll-free number has been established for advocates to reach out to Senate offices -- 1-800-828-0498.  Remind Senators that:

  • individuals with mental illnesses displaced by Katrina are in desperate need of treatment and supports,
  • public mental health systems in states and localities accepting evacuees from Katrina are already under enormous stress and need assistance to meet the needs of individuals and families in crisis, and
  • the expanded mental illness treatment included in the Grassley-Baucus package is critical in meeting the needs of evacuees with mental illness. 

Background on the Grassley-Baucus Emergency Medicaid Relief Package

The proposed expanded Medicaid category -- to be known as "Disaster Relief Medicaid" (DRM) -- will be available to individuals with incomes up to 100% of the federal poverty level and up to 200% of the federal poverty level for women and children.  The federal government would provide 100% matching funds for this expanded DRM program.  DRM will be available through a simplified eligibility process with a 1-page application and the ability for recipients to "self attest" (thereby avoiding difficult paperwork and documentation).  In addition, the DRM program would allow states to include a package of expanded mental health benefits with a 100% federal matching rate.  NAMI is currently working to ensure that current restrictions on Medicaid funding of acute inpatient psychiatric services are lifted in both the impacted states and states participating in the new Medicaid DRM program.  Finally, the bill would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a plan for Medicare drug benefit enrollment of displaced individuals who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.   

The legislation was introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Max Baucus (D-MT) and is expected to have broad bipartisan support.  And it is expected to bypass Committee action and move quickly through the Senate -- as early as September 20.  It is unclear whether the House will move on legislation to amend Medicaid to make it the principal federal means of getting health care resources into the impacted region and states that have accepted evacuees.

Click here to view additional information on the Senate Medicaid package.

Senate Clears Emergency Housing Funds

On September 14, the Senate, by unanimous voice vote, cleared an amendment -- authored by Senator Paul Sarbanes (R-MD) -- allocating $3.5 billion in emergency funding for Section 8 housing vouchers to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The funds would provide rent subsidies to individuals and families displaced by Katrina -- both in the impacted areas, and in states that victims have been evacuated to.  The Sarbanes Amendment would also waive existing requirements to allow dislocated individuals and families that were receiving assistance prior to the disaster to use their voucher across state lines. 

The Sarbanes Amendment, is now attached to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill for FY 2006 (HR 2862), which is expected to be wrapped up on the Senate floor today.  The bill has already passed the House, so it is headed next for a House-Senate conference.  Senator Sarbanes is exploring various strategies to ensure this funding is actually signed into law (and quickly), and will update us on suggested next steps soon.

NAMI Faults FEMA Policy Blocking Federal Response to Devastated Public Mental Health Programs

On September 14, NAMI sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) raising concerns about a restriction that has this far prevented the agency from directing emergency funds to mental illness treatment and support services to individuals and communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina.  Specifically, FEMA's Crisis Counseling Program, by the government’s own description, provides counseling only to “people responding normally to an abnormal experience."  NAMI's letter calls on FEMA to reverse this policy and ensure that the federal response is directed to individuals with severe mental illness whose treatment and housing have been severely disrupted this disaster.

Click here to access a copy of NAMI's letter to FEMA.


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