Delegation argues for extension of Massachusetts Medicaid waiver

WASHINGTON – The Massachusetts congressional delegation today sought to maintain federal funding for the state’s safety-net hospitals providing health care for the poor.

Amid ongoing negotiations with the Obama administration over renewing the state’s Medicaid waiver and with funding in jeopardy as Congress looks to trim trillions from the federal budget, all 12 members of the delegation expressed support for federal approval of a three-year waiver in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Donald Berwick, who oversees the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The letter, spearheaded by Representatives Edward Markey and Niki Tsongas along with Senator John Kerry, said renewing the state’s waiver would help strengthen Massachusetts’ safety-net hospitals and maintain the momentum and ongoing implementation of the state’s health care overhaul.

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The senators and representatives requested that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services keep the funding for Massachusetts safety-net hospitals such as Boston Medical Center and the Cambridge HealthAlliance at $4.6 billion because any reduction, the letter said, would “impede Massachusetts’ landmark health reform’’ and imperil payments to doctors and hospitals caring for low-income patients.

A waiver would enable the state to continue its subsidized insurance plans as well as help fund new programs such as ones focused on improving care for children with severe asthma, said an aide in Markey’s office. The money would also enable hospitals and doctors to better coordinate care and reform payment and delivery systems.

The waiver has been in place since 1997 and authorizes federal funding for health coverage for the poor and hospitals serving the uninsured. It serves as the financial underpinning for the state’s 2006 health care reform law, but must be renewed every three years.

Massachusetts’ previous waiver expired over the summer and the state has been operating under a series of temporary extensions, the latest of which will expire Nov. 30.

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