STUDY: Off WELFARE, many poor also losing MEDICAID health

Tom Boland (
Sun, 16 May 1999 22:05:09 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  San Francisco Examiner - May 13, 1999


     They get a job but often lose
     health insurance in the process

     Dan Freedman - Examiner Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The leap from welfare to work has cost
two-thirds of a million poor people their health
insurance, an advocacy group reported Thursday.

>From 1996 through 1997, about 675,000 former recipients
and their family members lost coverage under Medicaid,
according to a study released by Families USA, a
Washington-based advocacy group that concentrates on
health issues.

Medicaid is the government's insurance program for
low-income families. About two-thirds of those losing
this coverage - 62 percent - were children, the study

Based on data drawn from the Census Bureau and the Health
Care Financing Administration, which is in charge of
Medicaid, the report is the latest tremor in a series of
aftershocks following the 1996 law restructuring

Signed by President Clinton in August of that year, the
law requires people to find work after being on welfare
two years and limits their number of years on welfare to
five over their lifetime.

Clinton and Republican congressional leaders have
trumpeted the law's success in dramatically reducing the
number of families on welfare. Welfare rolls have
declined by 4.6 million people, or 38 percent, since
Clinton signed the legislation. In January 1993, when he
took office, welfare rolls totaled 14.1 million people.
The figure now is 7.6 million.

The 1996 federal law followed similar state
welfare-to-work legislation.

Critics, mostly liberals who opposed the law and
predicted it would cause increased suffering and
homelessness for the very poor, say the welfare-roll
decline masks the obstacles that former recipients face.

They fill mostly low-income jobs, which rarely offer
health insurance, the critics say.

"The irony here is that the reward these people get for
doing what they were supposed to do is they are now
uninsured,"  said Ron Pollack, executive director of
Families USA.

Overall, the number of Medicaid enrollees has declined
from 41.2 million in 1996 to 40.3 million in 1997, the
latest year for which the federal Department of Health and
Human Services has data.

Pollack attributed the former recipients' loss of
Medicaid to several factors.

Government rules permit new workers to stay on Medicaid
for a year or more after leaving welfare. But state and
local social service agencies often do not inform them
that they are still eligible for Medicaid.

Others have exhausted their transition benefit and now
find themselves among the 43 million Americans who have no
health insurance. And still others who are dropped off
welfare rolls without steady employment lose Medicaid
coverage even though their income remains low enough to
qualify for it.

Since Medicaid and welfare are no longer bound together -
as they were before 1996 - people now going on welfare do
not automatically receive Medicaid. They must apply for
it through a separate procedure.

Washington  "needs to be much more careful in monitoring
the Medicaid program to make sure these cutoffs do not
occur,"  Pollack said.

Noting that the government information available goes
only through 1997, he added,  "We should expect there are
many more people who will lose health coverage with each
passing year."


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