Catholic leaders urge quick passage of vital health-care bill for Katrina survivors

.- The United States bishops, Catholic Charities USA, and the Catholic Health Association are urging senators to quickly pass crucial legislation that would provide temporary health care coverage for Hurricane Katrina survivors through the Medicaid program.

"In response to the disaster, the federal government can and should act to implement a health services strategy that ensures immediate access to health services for low-income and newly impoverished individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina," the three groups wrote in a joint letter to U.S. senators.

Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced the bipartisan Emergency Health Care Relief Act of 2005 last month. Despite bi-partisan support, full Senate action on the bill has been delayed several times.

The legislation would offer Medicaid coverage with streamlined eligibility and enrollment procedures to all those affected by Hurricane Katrina with incomes at 100 percent or less of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), as well as all pregnant women and children survivors up to 200 percent of the FPL. It would also provide 100 percent federal Medicaid matching for areas affected by Katrina in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama until December 2006, and provide for temporary 100 percent federal Medicaid payments to every state for all eligible Katrina survivors. Finally, it would create a fund for providers to help offset increases in uncompensated health care costs as a result of Katrina.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have already approved waivers for expedited eligibility determination for Katrina survivors in four states around the disaster area. However, without passage of the bill, childless adults will not be eligible and the most devastated states will have to bear the costs for care.

The three Catholic groups applauded the government’s quick response that made health services available to those in need. “However, we believe it is necessary to create seamless eligibility for the victims of Hurricane Katrina across state lines and to allow the government to ensure full federal funding of health care services for all Katrina victims, wherever they may be," said the letter.

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