Medicaid waiver expected for many Flint residents

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Flint — Many of Gov. Rick Snyder’s requests for expanded Medicaid assistance in Flint will likely be granted, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Thursday during her first trip to the city.

Burwell announced a half million dollars in funding to assist two local agencies with their response efforts to the city’s lead-contaminated water crisis. The Genesee Health System and Hamilton Community Health Network, a federally funded health care center in the city, each will receive $250,000.

President Barack Obama recently named Health and Human Services the lead agency in the federal response effort that includes the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We are focused on supporting the people of Flint by helping to ensure they have access to clean water and the health services they need to mitigate the effects of lead exposure,” Burwell said.

The additional funding will allow the county Health Department and Hamilton clinic to speed lead testing in children and quickly hire more staff for community outreach, she said.

Snyder on Sunday asked that Medicaid benefits be expanded to include Flint residents up to 21 years old and pregnant women who have been receiving water from the city’s troubled system. The Republican governor sent the formal request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services seeking a waiver that could make new services available to 15,000 additional residents.

A previous request that the federal Women Infants Children program be expanded to cover older children in the city was denied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Burwell noted the WIC program has provided increased flexibility for Flint families, such as the ability to purchase pre-mixed formula for babies.

State testing data of 10,000 Flint homes released this week found about 7 percent of them have lead contamination levels that exceed the federal safety standard of 15 parts per billion.

“Children, teens and young adults exposed to lead need more coverage to get testing and the treatment they need,” Snyder said in a Sunday statement. “Expanding these services and lead abatement efforts will mitigate the risks of lead exposure and result in better identifying any long-term health challenges, including behavioral issues.”

An expansion of the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program services would allow case managers in Flint to:

■Link physicians, behavioral health providers and Medicaid health plans together to provide better access to service for residents.

■Bolster efforts at improving nutrition.

■Improve access to “educational and social supports” available in the community.

The expanded coverage would go to those up to the age of of 21 who “are being served or who were served by Flint’s water system between April 2014 and a future date when the water system is deemed safe. Pregnant women and their future children will also be made eligible,” Snyder’s office said.

All incomes will be covered by the program, but individuals with an annual income of $47,520, or households of four with an income of $97,200, will have the option of buying into the program.