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States See Higher Medicaid Enrollment As Economic Downturn Persists

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Medicaid spending by states increased nationwide by 5.3% in fiscal year 2008 and enrollment increased by 2.1% largely because of the continuing economic downturn, according to an annual survey released on Monday by the Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, Stateline.org reports. For the study, Kaiser researchers with KCMU and Health Management Associates surveyed the Medicaid directors of all 50 states between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008 (Vu, Stateline.org, 9/30). The survey found that in FY 2009, Medicaid enrollment is projected to increase by 3.5% and state spending is projected to increase by 5.8% (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 9/29). More than two-thirds of state Medicaid directors said there is an even chance they will experience a budget shortfall in FY 2009 (CongressDaily, 9/29).

Vern Smith, former director of Michigan's Medicaid program and a principle with HMA, said, "Just when it looked like things would get better, a new economic downturn has pulled the fiscal rug out from under the states." He added that most states are restoring cuts made in previous years and increasing provider payments, but three states have reduced benefits this year because of unexpected budget shortfalls.

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Nevada and New York state in August reduced Medicaid payments to hospitals and nursing homes, and South Carolina this month announced cuts to physician and dentist payments. Smith said, "As state fiscal situations worsen, actions in these three states may be a harbinger of things to come" (Stateline.org, 9/30). According to Smith, "If the downturn is prolonged, and it contributes to large increases in Medicaid enrollment and spending, then [states] will have to look at options to rein in spending" (Anstett, Detroit Free Press, 9/30).

According to a separate previously-released analysis, a 1% increase in unemployment translates to an increase of one million in Medicaid and SCHIP enrollment, an increase of $3.4 billion in combined state and federal Medicaid spending, and an increase of 1.1 million in the uninsured population because many people who lose employer-sponsored coverage do not qualify for Medicaid.

The report on the survey noted that much of the data collection was conducted at the beginning of 2008, when the economy was stronger, allowing states to implement a variety of Medicaid improvements and expansions. Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and executive director of KCMU, said the survey likely understates the eventual effect on Medicaid of the poor economy. She said, "I think we have a somewhat rosier picture (in the survey) than the reality we've heard from the directors on the ground" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/29).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.