Providers support unpopular hurricane relief bill

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Long-term care providers expressed support this week for the Emergency Health Care Relief Act of 2005, a somewhat controversial bill that would assist survivors with Medicaid support from states afflicted by recent hurricanes.

Senators earlier this week blocked a floor vote on the bill, which has an estimated price tag of $8.7 billion over five years. It was unveiled earlier this month by Finance Committee leaders Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT).

Beyond offering emergency Medicaid assistance, the bill includes temporary 100% matching payments for the cost of care for hurricane survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama who have been relocated. It also cancels for all states the federal matching rate reduction scheduled for fiscal year 2006.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a letter Tuesday to Senate leaders from both parties that the bill designed to provide temporary Medicaid benefits for survivors of Hurricane Katrina should not be approved. The Bush administration's strategy of negotiating waivers with state Medicaid programs "largely precludes the need for the activities" proposed in the bill, Leavitt wrote. He added, a "new program is unnecessary."

Supporters of the bill, beyond AHCA, include the National Governors Association, American Red Cross, American Hospital Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.