Utah has received a $10 million bonus for making it easier for families to sign up for subsidized health insurance for their children.
The $306 million in payments to 23 states was announced Wednesday. They are authorized under the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 and are meant to encourage states to boost enrollment in Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
This was the first year out of four that Utah has received the payment. The state was lauded in a federal news release for eliminating its in-person interview requirement, coordinating its application and renewal procedures, using quick administrative renewals and adopting presumptive eligibility, which offers temporary coverage immediately.
While it kept its asset test, it no longer requires families to submit paper verification.
Michael Hales, director of Utah's Medicaid program, said Wednesday his office has been working toward the bonus for about a year. Lawmakers last year encouraged seeking the money.
"So we started taking a look at some of the things we could do," he said, adding that the office is "happy the work has paid off with a $10 million bonus."
Now, siblings of foster children are presumed eligible for Medicaid, just as the foster children are. And Medicaid applicants no longer have to submit paper copies of their bank statements, Hales said.
He said the money is not earmarked for CHIP or Medicaid and will go toward the state's general fund. Utah funded many of the administrative changes with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, he said.
Over the past year, Utah saw a bump in the number of children enrolled in Medicaid, by 3,100, but the number of children enrolled in CHIP dropped by nearly 2,000. The two programs currently enroll 204,440 children.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required that enrollment grow to receive the bonus. Hales said it based its decision on Utah's historical Medicaid enrollment of 148,000, which jumped to almost 169,000 last month. Some of that growth is due to the poor economy and more people qualifying for the program, Hales said.
While the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children applauded the bonus, it noted that Utah ranked 50th in enrolling eligible children in either program in 2010. Utah enrolled 74 percent of eligible children, compared to the national rate of 86 percent.
"Over the last few years, the Utah Legislature and Governor Herbert have taken meaningful steps in helping connect uninsured kids with Medicaid and CHIP. However, we still have too many uninsured eligible families who are not enrolled in these important programs," said Lincoln Nehring, senior health policy analyst at Voices. "Getting kids covered and keeping them covered means healthier kids and families and helps our state spend scare health dollars wisely."
He recommended Utah move to continuous eligibility for children in Medicaid so they only have to sign up for coverage once a year. Now, Nehring said, they may have to send in pay stubs, bank account and other information every month.
He called for changes in Utah's insurance exchange, which now connects small businesses with private health insurance. He said it should connect families to private insurance and Medicaid and CHIP as well.
That's what federal health reform requires, but Gov. Herbert has said Utah's exchange wasn't intended to administer Medicaid.
Voices for Utah Children also says Utah should expand Medicaid eligibility, which is optional under the Affordable Care Act. Herbert has not said what he plans to do.