Medicaid Helps People in Times of Need Following Natural Disasters – Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog

Wesley Prater.png

and Wesley Prater

Natural disasters such as the tornado that hit Joplin,
Missouri and the flooding that affected residents of several states along the
Mississippi river, serve as stark reminders of the important role the federal
government plays in helping states respond to such events.  Health care is one of the most pressing
needs victims of natural disasters face and states and local communities often
need the help of the federal government to meet those needs. 

The most immediate health care needs are met through the
National Disaster Medical System to support local health agencies in responding
to disasters.  But there are many
other health care needs that linger long after the disasters.  For example, victims of floods or
tornados may lose personal records needed to qualify for Medicaid or CHIP
coverage.  Or agencies and medical
facilities may be directly impacted by the disasters and unable to retrieve medical
records, computer files and other vital information needed to ensure access to
health care coverage. 

The Medicaid program, under Administrations of both
parties, has a strong record of helping states during times of crisis:

  • During the September 11th attacks, many of the Medicaid
    computer systems were damaged.  The
    federal government responded by establishing Disaster Relief Medicaid (DRM) in
    New York City.  The DRM increased
    eligibility levels and streamlined the Medicaid application process with a
    one-page application and no asset test. 
    This ensured that help was available to people when they needed it the

  • When Iowa was hit by massive flooding in 2008, CMS
    approved a waiver to suspend eligibility redeterminations for residents of the
    affected counties in order to ensure continuity of Medicaid and CHIP coverage,
    and to relax the documentation requirements for new applicants who may have
    lost documents in the flooding. 

  • In response to Hurricane Katrina, Congress created a
    waiver program for Medicaid to provide assistance to states that had families
    who evacuated Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in the amount of $2
    billion.  This appropriation helped
    cover some of the states’ share of expenses in Medicaid and restored access to
    health care in areas that were affected. 
    Evacuees who were enrolled in Medicaid before Katrina were able to
    continue their coverage and families who were previously ineligible for
    Medicaid until the Hurricane struck the Gulf Coast region were able to receive

Helping people in their time of need, particularly when
disaster strikes, is one of the most important roles our government serves. One
of the virtues of the Medicaid program is its flexiblity in responding to
unforseen disasters -either natural or man-made.We need to make sure that
Medicaid continues to hold strong so it will be ready to help when the next
disaster strikes.

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