Citizenship Rules Eased For Medicaid

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 7, 2006

More than 8 million people will not have to provide further evidence of their citizenship in order to get Medicaid benefits, under regulations issued late yesterday by the federal government.

Among the groups exempted will be seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicare or SSI, as Supplemental Security Income is commonly called. Because they have provided documentation as required in those programs, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agreed that they should be excluded from a new citizenship rule.

The rule, which took effect Saturday, requires Medicaid recipients to prove they are U.S. citizens through a passport, birth certificate or other records. Passed as part of last year's Deficit Reduction Act, the rule is intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving benefits. Many critics fear that Americans entitled to coverage will be unable to produce the paperwork needed.

The new regulations also will allow database matches with state records for men and women whose citizenship is on record through information they provided when qualifying for such things as food stamps or a driver's license. Mark McLellan, administrator of the Medicare and Medicaid services center, said yesterday that such data matches could help exempt many more people. "Definitely in the millions," he said during a teleconference.

More than 50 million poor and disabled Americans depend on Medicaid, a state and federally funded program, to pay for medical or nursing home care.

A hearing will be held today in federal court in Chicago, where advocacy groups are seeking to stop the new rule's implementation on constitutional grounds. States that do not comply risk losing billions in federal dollars.

Steve Hitov, an attorney with the National Health Law Program, reacted positively yesterday to the regulations' exemptions. "Anything the federal government will allow states to do that eases the burden on the states and, more importantly, eases the burden on Medicaid recipients is an affirmatively good thing," he said yesterday.

And Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the exemptions "a commendable development." However, he noted that the latest action still will not help beneficiaries such as foster children and the homeless. "This should be corrected," he said.

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