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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nearly 16K Medicaid clients in 2013
Retirees, newborns among new applicants

The number of people that availed of local Medicaid benefits surged last fiscal year, reaching nearly 16,000 individuals covering the period from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013.

Acting program administrator Rose R. Benito told Saipan Tribune yesterday that the program assisted a total of 15,756 clients in fiscal year 2013, with the bulk of the number coming from Saipan.

The program expects to accommodate even more people this fiscal year 2014. As of yesterday, the volume of applications for Medicaid benefits already totaled 4,825 individuals. Of this number, Benito said, 1,752 applications have so far been approved.

In order to avail of the benefits of the Medicaid program, applicants must be U.S. citizens and within the income threshold set for the program. Those who receive SSI (supplemental security income) are also qualified, provided they apply for it.

Benito disclosed that the agency sets the income threshold a little bit higher each year, yet more and more people still apply for Medicaid benefits, she said.

For fiscal year 2014, the Medicaid program has set the income threshold for a single person at no more than $1,082 per month. For a household of two, the income bracket is $1,623 per month.

For a household of three, the new income bracket is $1,743 per month, while a household of four has an income bracket of $1,863 per month.

Under the government’s 2014 eligibility list, the income threshold is for up to households of 20 members.

Under the Medicaid program, members are covered 100 percent for services like dental, eye checkup, medicines and hospital confinement, unless members have other insurance companies.

New applicants

Benito disclosed that since the start of fiscal year 2014, a large number of new applicants are mostly retirees and newborn babies of low-income parents.

She believes that the 25-percent reduction in the pension benefits of retirees contributed to the surge in Medicaid clients. Many retirees became eligible to apply for Medicaid after losing 25 percent of their pensions.

The cut in retirees’ pension was among the components of a settlement agreement reached by the government and parties in the Retirement Fund lawsuit.

“Some retirees are coming in to the program because they’re now eligible after receiving a lower pension due to this 25-percent cut. Also noticeable is the entry of newborn babies,” Benito told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Also, with more and more families dropping their health insurance due to higher premium rates, the program expects a continued surge in the number of people it will serve every year.

To explain the surge in applications received by the agency, Benito showed Saipan Tribune the 17 applications they received just yesterday morning. This number, Benito said, is very small compared to what they usually get on a daily basis.

“The data trend is growing…and will continue to grow,” she said.

In Benito’s personal opinion, “if a lot of people are depending on something that’s totally free, there’s really something wrong.”

The Medicaid program is a federal/state program administered by the states and funded by both federal and state revenue through matching funds.

About four years ago, the Medicaid program had about 10,000 clients. This jumped to over 14,700 in fiscal year 2010. Since then, the number has continued to climb.

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