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Senate Finance Panel Grants States Flexibility to Drop Medicaid Patients

In a perfect display of how much of the Senate Finance Committee’s public debate over health reform is really not public, the panel this afternoon approved — without discussion and without a roll-call vote — a controversial amendment granting states the flexibility to drop some Medicaid patients after 2010.

The original bill would have prohibited such dropped coverage, instead requiring states to maintain current levels of Medicaid eligibility until state insurance exchanges are up and running, which is expected to occur by the start of 2013. But several lawmakers argued that some states simply can’t afford to keep eligibility levels steady that long because (1) tax revenues are down amid the recession, (2) Medicaid enrollment is up, also because of the recession and (3) billions of dollars in extra federal funding provided by the economic stimulus bill will run dry at the start of 2011 — leaving a two year gap when enrollment would remain high but federal help would decrease. The result, these lawmakers said, would be a bursting of already squeezed state budgets.

Their solution? An amendment, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), allowing states — beginning in 2011, when the extra federal funds stop — to drop non-pregnant, non-disabled adults earning above 133 of poverty.

While members of the panel debated the amendment last night, there was no discussion today. It passed unceremoniously, by voice vote.

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