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As many as 100,000 improperly denied Medicaid

The Associated Press 09/15/99 5:32 AM Eastern

SPOKANE (AP) -- As many as 100,000 people removed from Washington's welfare rolls in the last two years may have been unfairly denied medical coverage, state officials say.

Although those recipients got off welfare, many probably were still eligible for Medicaid coverage, which is jointly paid for by the state and federal governments for low-income people.

But a glitch in the state Department of Social and Health Services' computer system caused all former recipients to lose the coverage, regardless of eligibility.

"It was overlooked," Tom Bedell, the agency's assistant secretary for medical assistance, said Tuesday.

Advocates for the poor began complaining of Medicaid denials as far back as the fall of 1997, when the state began its welfare-to-work program intended to move people off welfare and into jobs.

But it wasn't until last month, after nearly five months of negotiating with advocates for the poor, that DSHS began correcting the error.

"I think they themselves hadn't realized the magnitude of the people being cut off," said Cassie Sauer, health policy director for the Children's Alliance, a nonprofit group involved in the negotiations. "I think they thought it was more anecdotal until they looked at the numbers."

The push to get people off welfare and into jobs may have contributed to the problem, Bedell said.

"That's been a goal of the Work-First program from the beginning, to make people independent," he said. "It resulted in some unintended consequences."

Under Congress' 1996 welfare reforms, poor people don't have to be on welfare to be eligible for Medicaid.

But in Washington, all 100,000 people making the welfare-to-work transition were sent letters telling them medical aid ended with welfare checks.

It's unclear how many were unfairly terminated from Medicaid. Some of them, once they got jobs, may have earned too much money to qualify, Bedell said.

Regardless, letters are being sent to each household denied benefits, offering 90 days of free Medicaid coverage and offering to pay medical bills as far back as August 1997.

The cost, to be paid out of DSHS's administrative budget, will depend on how many people were improperly kicked off Medicaid.

Bedell refused to estimate the bill, but said he hoped it would be low, based on a similar error in Pennsylvania.

There, only 5 percent of recipients responded to letters, and of those, only half were eligible for payment of back medical bills, Bedell said.

Until the computer glitch is fixed -- estimated for January -- families leaving welfare will continue getting the incorrect termination letters, but will also receive a second letter saying to disregard the first one.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? We welcome your feedback.

)1999 Oregon Live LLC

-- Homer Beanfang (, September 15, 1999


Unfairly? The concept of adults getting hand-outs is intrinsically unfair, having people lose something they don't deserve in the first place is not unfair, whether it is intentional or not.

-- Gus (, September 15, 1999.

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