Alabama gets $55 million for enrolling kids

Alabama was the big winner among 15 states for enrolling uninsured children for public health insurance.

The federal performance bonus to Alabama for the kids’ insurance sign-up: $55 million.

That was the biggest chunk of the more than $200 million in bonus payments awarded Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than double the amount doled out the previous year. The grants were designed to encourage enrollment of millions of children who are eligible for government health insurance but don’t have it.

Georgia’s bonus? Zero. The state was among 32 that did not apply for the bonus. Three other states applied but did not qualify.

The Georgia Department of Community Health said in a statement that the agency “reviewed the options available and found that some of the program features would weaken the integrity of the program and would increase the state’s cost for the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs.‘’

“DCH continues to look at additional program features that will enhance the integrity of the program, and may qualify for the program for bonus payments in the future,” the statement said.

Despite widespread unemployment due to the poor economy, children’s enrollment in the Georgia Medicaid and PeachCare programs has stayed flat over the last year. Medicaid, the federal/state insurance program for the poor and disabled, covered 1,128,263 children under 19 in October 2010, up slightly from 1,123,529 children the year before.

PeachCare, the program for uninsured children of middle-income parents, dipped slightly, from 202,405 to 202,380, in that same time period.

The two programs have separate enrollment applications. To qualify for the Medicaid bonuses, states must have adopted at least five of eight measures for streamlining enrollment for children – including a joint application – and must have recorded higher-than-expected Medicaid caseload increases, noted the New York Times.

“We are absolutely ecstatic about the $55 million,’’ the Times article quoted Lee Rawlinson, Alabama’s deputy Medicaid commissioner, as saying. “It just could not have come at a better time for the state.’’

Georgia’s decision not to seek the bonus ‘’was a missed opportunity,’’ said Cindy Zeldin, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a consumer advocacy organization.

Zeldin said there are about 193,000 uninsured children in Georgia who are currently eligible for Medicaid and PeachCare but are not enrolled.

‘’By adopting policies and procedures to simplify and facilitate enrollment, Georgia could not only have improved the health of our kids but also made our programs more efficient, while drawing down federal dollars to mitigate the cost to the state,’’ Zeldin said.

Besides Alabama, only one other Southeastern state received a performance bonus –  Louisiana, $3.6 million.

A recent study in the journal Health Affairs found Georgia slightly below the estimated national participation rate of children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The national rate in 2008 was estimated at 81.8 percent, while the Georgia rate was 80.6 percent.