From the New York Times:
The Obama administration gave a green light on Tuesday to Arizona’s plan to remove about 250,000 adults from its Medicaid rolls, instructing the state that it could circumvent a requirement in the new health care law that prohibits reductions in eligibility.
In a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote that Arizona’s expansion of Medicaid to cover low-income childless adults had been enacted a decade ago with special permission from the federal government, known as a waiver. That waiver, Ms. Sebelius wrote, is time-limited and expires Sept. 30. …
The secretary said explicitly that the removal of childless adults from the rolls would not constitute a violation of the health care law’s eligibility requirements. The law calls for a major expansion of Medicaid eligibility in 2014, when all states must begin covering low-income adults.
While this will help Arizona, it sounds like Sebelius’s reasoning is too narrow to allow for other states to hope that they, too, can tighten their Medicaid requirements. That’s a real problem, as many states – facing huge deficits – would like the flexibility to modify one of their most expensive programs, as I wrote about earlier this month.
Cutting Medicaid may not be ideal, but neither is slashing other programs, such as education and public safety. Sebelius, no doubt, will have more opportunities in the near future to decide on whether states can be released from burdensome Medicaid eligiblity mandates; it would be helpful to governors if she opted to give them the flexibility they need regarding Medicaid.