South Carolina’s Medicaid agency said Thursday that it is now enrolling approximately 65,000 children who are in the state’s poorest households. The state Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that the expansion covers the children of parents who receive food stamps or welfare payments.
DHHS spokesman Jeff Stensland says these are kids who are already eligible for Medicaid, but their parents have not yet enrolled them. “For whatever reason, these folks are receiving some social service benefits but they’re not receiving Medicaid,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “The eligibility requirements are the same. So if they would qualify to receive those other benefits, they should qualify for Medicaid as well.”
The legislature set aside $29 million in the state budget this year to pay for the expansion. That is backed by a roughly 3-to-1 federal match.
DHHS is calling the process “Express Lane” eligibility. Qualifying children were identified using data from the state Department of Social Services, which administers the food stamp and welfare programs. Families who participate in those programs must meet income requirements that are below the threshold for receiving Medicaid benefits.
The agency is sending letters out to parents in October, starting with Richland County this week. Stensland said the first letters will go to the Columbia area. If parents do not want the coverage, they can ask the agency to drop them.
Stensland said the idea is to offer more preventive care to lower-income children now in order to prevent more expensive treatments in the future.
Earlier this year, South Carolina officials opted out of federal law that would have expanded Medicaid eligibility under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. One of the reasons given by DHHS director Tony Keck at the time was that the state faced a large liability in the number of eligible South Carolinians who had not enrolled in the program but could if they wanted.
“It is hard to justify large expansions of Medicaid under Obamacare when we haven’t even been meeting our current commitments to our most vulnerable children,” he said in a statement Thursday.
DHHS has already been automatically renewing its current recipients under a change Keck implemented. He said at the time that more than 90,000 children fall off Medicaid in South Carolina every year only to re-enroll within six weeks. He hoped the automatic renewals would save the agency money each year.
“Express lane eligibility” was created by Congress in 2009 for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which is enveloped under Medicaid in South Carolina