By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - South Carolina's success in finding health insurance for more children has earned the state a $17.5 million bonus, the federal government announced Monday.
"States are working hard to ensure children get access to the health coverage they need," said Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "We are pleased to provide financial support to reward states that are reducing enrollment barriers and are connecting kids to coverage."
This year, 23 states earned $307 million in performance bonuses for streamlining the enrollment process and increasing the number of children covered by Medicaid.
South Carolina met five of the eight targets to become eligible for the bonus by:
- Allowing for full-year enrollment.
- Reducing the steps needed to verify families' income and assets.
- Eliminating the need for in-person interviews.
- Allowing use of the same forms to either apply for or renew coverage.
- Using information from other federal benefit programs to automatically enroll children in Medicaid.
South Carolina earned a larger bonus than it otherwise would have by increasing children's enrollment by more than 10 percent, the first time that's happened in the performance bonus program's five-year history.
In the last year, South Carolina enrolled an additional 103,000 children. Since 2010, enrollment for children has jumped more than 22 percent to nearly 600,000, according to South Carolina Director of Health and Human Services Tony Keck.
"It's a huge jump," Keck said Monday. "We were one of the states with a fairly large number who are eligible but unenrolled, and most of them were children. We really have been working on that problem."
Congress created the performance bonuses in 2009 as an incentive for states to enroll more children from lower-income families in Medicaid or a state health insurance program, and to help states pay the increased costs. South Carolina's first bonus was $2.7 million in 2011. In 2012 it was $2.9 million.
This is the last year of the federal performance bonus program.
Keck said the biggest factor in the increased enrollment of children has been "express-lane eligibility," which allows states to use food-stamp eligibility data to automatically alert someone they're eligible for Medicaid.
After the state started using express-lane eligibility in October 2012, enrollment spiked for families earning less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Now, for the first time, more than 90 percent of eligible children are enrolled in Medicaid, Keck said.
South Carolina is among states that opted not to expand the number of adults eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Keck said the $17.5 million bonus will go toward the state's efforts to help provide health care for the uninsured.
"We're not an expansion state," he said. "We believe we can use the money we have to solve the problem."