October 19,2005

Baucus Fights For Katrina Health Package

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of the SenateFinance Committee, once again asked for unanimous consent urging passage of S. 1716, theEmergency Health Care Relief Act. The health package would provide immediate health carecoverage to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Baucus drafted the legislation with ChairmanGrassley of the Senate Finance Committee.

Senator Baucus’ comments on the Senate floor follow:

Statement of U.S. Senator Max BaucusKatrina Health ReliefOctober 19, 2005

Mr. President, it has been more than seven weeks since Hurricane Katrina hit the GulfCoast. Nearly 1.5 million Americans have been displaced. And tens of thousands of thesesurvivors have no health coverage and no money to pay for care. So today, I rise again to call forpassage of the Grassley-Baucus Emergency Health Care Relief Act, S. 1716.

On Monday, the LA Times ran a story on a 52 year old school bus driver from NewOrleans, Emanuel Wilson. Mr. Wilson survived Katrina, but his life is still at risk because he hasintestinal cancer and no health insurance.

Mr. Wilson was getting monthly chemotherapy injections before the storm, but now hecan’t get health care. He lost his job and health coverage because of Katrina, and is ineligible forMedicaid.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, more than half of all the hurricaneevacuees still in Louisiana who have sought Medicaid coverage since Katrina have been turnedaway.

These are poor people. And they can’t get coverage because they don’t meet the rigideligibility guidelines under federal Medicaid law.

We need to relax those guidelines on a temporary, emergency basis to help thesesurvivors in need.

This morning, my staff met with Secretary Cerise of the Louisiana Department of Healthand Hospitals. Dr. Cerise reports that Louisiana’s Medicaid program has enrolled 60,000 newindividuals because of Katrina, which would cost the state about $83 million if they were to payfor their care.

Louisiana has just lost about one-seventh of their total expected state revenue this year –they cannot bear these additional costs.

And they are likely to need to make dramatic cuts to their Medicaid program if they don’tget help soon. Dr. Cerise reports that Louisiana will have to cut all of its optional services andbeneficiaries if they don’t get help.

That means ending their hospice programs, pharmacy benefits, institutional care for thementally retarded, hemodialysis and other needed benefits. And cutting off care for theirmedically needy and breast and cervical cancer patients, as well as thousands of low-incomechildren.

The Administration says their Medicaid waivers will take care of the job. But thewaivers don’t allow states to cover even the poorest childless adult survivors.And states that expand Medicaid eligibility may be left on the hook to pay the bill forsome of their new Medicaid costs. The Administration has promised they would make stateswhole – reimburse them for new costs arising from Katrina.

But Secretary Leavitt himself acknowledged in a letter to Senator Grassley and me thatthe Administration needs legislation to do this.Mr. President, we can do better.

The Administration says it would like to “work with Congress to assist states with theadded Medicaid burdens they face as a result of Hurricane Katrina.” But it is now more thanseven weeks since Katrina made landfall, and we have no legislative proposal from theAdministration.

If the Administration wants to “work with Congress,” its work is long overdue.

Senator Grassley and I did not delay. Our bill would ensure full federal funding andaccess to health care for poor Katrina survivors.

We have been calling on the Senate to pass this bill since the day it was introduced andcontinue to appeal to those blocking the bill today.

One concern has been that the bill could lead to an expansion of Medicaid and that thosesurvivors added to Medicaid would stay on the rolls. Let me reassure my colleagues that therewould be no ongoing right to Medicaid under this bill.

The bill creates a temporary, time-limited, emergency benefit of up to 5 months ofcoverage.

That’s it. Once the period of coverage ends, there would be no mandated ongoing rightto coverage.

Another concern is that the bill costs too much. But a pared-down version of the Katrinabill costs just over $6 billion. That’s about a tenth of what Congress appropriated for FEMAwithin about 7 days of the disaster.

Now 7 weeks after the Katrina, Congress has failed to act to meet the health needs ofKatrina victims. And the FEMA money had no strings attached and has been given out for nobidcontracts.

By contrast, the funds in our bill would be carefully tracked and spent in a well-regulatedprogram that already exists - Medicaid.

Mr. President, our bill is straightforward. If states have survivors who meet the incomeguidelines, they can enroll them in Medicaid, pure and simple. States can help to survivorswithout the uncertainty that they will bear the costs of treating Katrina evacuees.

Having this security is especially important for the handful of states who are hosting thegreatest numbers of evacuees – states like Texas with 165,000 evacuees, Florida with 32,000evacuees, Tennessee with 16,000 evacuees, and Arkansas with 11,500 evacuees.Even states with smaller numbers of evacuees will be helped. South Carolina has 3,500evacuees, nearly half of which have already enrolled in Medicaid. Oklahoma has 3,700evacuees, nearly 80 percent have enrolled in Medicaid.

Nevada has only about 1,400 evacuees, but two-thirds have already enrolled in Medicaid.Should these states have to foot the bill for these new costs? Louisiana can’t afford to pay forcare being given out of state. We must act to help everyone deal with this crisis.We have spent too long talking about this bill and asking for unanimous consent to getthis bill passed. My colleagues Senator Grassley, Senator Landrieu, Senator Lincoln, andSenator Reid have all spoken passionately in support of moving this forward with due speed.I hope we can get this bill passed and enacted into law without delay. We owe this muchto our fellow Americans hurt by Katrina and its aftermath.