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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Unfair Medicaid rule punishes our needy

The title of the federal act speaks volumes about where the administration's intentions lie:

One of the ill-considered provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act includes a new rule, which officially took effect Saturday, aimed at saving money above all interests. Medicaid beneficiaries now have to prove their citizenship or risk losing health coverage.

That may sound sensible on its face. But even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not pushed for such an across-the-board documentation rule.

Still, lawmakers pressed ahead with a bill demanding documentation that for many of the neediest Americans is difficult to produce: a document showing citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, and a document showing identity, such as a driver's license.

Many of the poor and elderly lack these documents because they don't drive, they were never issued a birth certificate and they don't travel. The unfairness of this burden has led one beneficiary to file a class-action lawsuit in federal court, alleging that the law is unconstitutional.

Fortunately, in Hawai'i the Department of Human Services and other agencies are being proactive in digging up the documentation rather than leaving beneficiaries in the lurch. During July "renewal month" for Medicaid recipients the state is combing its own databases for the documentation for as many of the beneficiaries as possible.

Those for whom the documents can't be found will be contacted and assisted with their proof of citizenship. Medicaid recipients should keep an eye out for a letter from Med-QUEST the state agency delivering Medicaid benefits that will provide details.

Efforts locally and in pockets around the country are commendable, but the federal law needs fixing. The U.S. Senate leadership last week blocked an attempt by Sen. Daniel Akaka to extend the deadline. That means the Senate majority and leadership must be held accountable and should fix the language in the act so that bona fide Americans aren't penalized by this cost-cutting drive.