Bush at Odds With Own Party in Effort to Block Medicaid Coverage for Hurricane Victims

There are reports of a growing rift between President Bush and other Republicans over how to care for Katrina survivors. The most public example of this fissure is the debate over the temporary expansion of Medicaid coverage for hurricane survivors.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking minority member Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have introduced a bill under which the federal government would pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs for survivors from Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama who have been forced to move to other states. The coverage would last for five months, with the option of extending the coverage for an additional five months.

The federal government also would pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs through the end of 2006 for all beneficiaries in Louisiana, Mississippi and counties in Alabama that have been designated as disaster areas. Survivors with annual incomes below the federal poverty level, as well as pregnant women and children from families with annual incomes up to 200 percent of poverty, would be eligible for the coverage. Asset tests would be eliminated and income would be measured going forward.

The bill, which the National Governors Association has endorsed, would also help hurricane survivors with their private health insurance costs and eliminate copayments and deductibles for hospital services for elderly Medicare beneficiaries who have been evacuated.

But the Los Angeles Times reports that although the bill is supported by some Republicans who generally back the administration -- such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) -- Bush administration officials "are quietly working to derail" the Grassley-Baucus proposal. Instead, the administration is pushing for a narrower plan under which uninsured hurricane survivors would have to seek free care at hospital emergency rooms.

The disagreement, the Times comments, is an example of how Bush "is proving deeply reluctant to use some of the big-government tools at his disposal, apparently out of fear of permanently enlarging programs that he opposes or has sought to cut."

For the full Los Angeles Times article, click here (free registration required).

For more on the bill and other relief proposals, click here.