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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Victory for low-income kids in fiscal cliff deal

Sarah Bagge

Staff Writer

Buried deep in the fiscal cliff deal passed last week was a big win for low-income kids. With the change of one number, Congress made it easier for tens of thousands of kids to get and keep health coverage.

How did they do it? They extended for another year the option for states to use Express Lane Eligibility to enroll kids in coverage.

Express Lane Eligibility is common sense. It allows a state to use information it has from other programs, such as family income, to identify and sign up eligible kids for health coverage. For example, when a state enrolls a child in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), it already has all the information it needs to see if that child qualifies for health coverage through CHIP or Medicaid.

With Express Lane Eligibility, the state Medicaid agency can use the information it has to determine if the child is eligible for Medicaid, get her enrolled, and send her family a Medicaid card so she can start getting services right away. Without Express Lane Eligibility, that child’s parents would have to provide all of the same information again to apply for health coverage.

Express Lane Eligibility is a win-win. It makes it easier for kids to get and keep health coverage while reducing the administrative work of the state. In Louisiana, for example, Express Lane Eligibility helped 11,100 uninsured kids get health coverage in a year. And instead of the average of $116 it cost the state to process a regular application, each Express Lane case only cost $11-$15 to process.

Thirteen states from Georgia to Oregon have started using Express Lane Eligibility since it began in 2009, saving millions of dollars and helping hundreds of thousands of kids get and keep health coverage.

Things weren’t looking good for the Express Lane option a week ago. It was set to expire at the end of September. But Congress took note of its success, and included its extension to 2014 in the fiscal cliff deal. Let’s hope we see lots more support for these common sense solutions in 2013!