A federal agency has awarded Georgia almost $5 million in a bonus payment for enrolling more children in government health insurance programs. It’s the...

A federal agency has awarded Georgia almost $5 million in a bonus payment for enrolling more children in government health insurance programs.

It’s the first year that Georgia has received this performance bonus, funded under 2009 legislation that reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

To qualify, a state must exceed an enrollment target for Medicaid and improve access to that program and to CHIP, which is known in Georgia as PeachCare. The state must meet at least five of eight enrollment benchmarks set by the federal government.

Georgia, which was awarded $4,965,887, is one of 23 states to share more than $296 million this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Several states received much higher bonuses, including Maryland, $28.3 million; Virginia, $26.7 million; Colorado, $26.1 million; and Wisconsin, $24.5 million.

The performance bonuses help offset the costs that states incur when they enroll lower-income children in Medicaid.

“More of Georgia’s children now have the advantages health coverage provides,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. “And Georgia parents now have the security of knowing their children can get the health care they need without worrying that an illness could leave them with a lifetime of medical bills.”

Georgia has made several program improvements to streamline the children’s coverage enrollment process, HHS said. For example, the same forms are used to apply for Medicaid and PeachCare, and applicants are not required to do a face-to-face interview, which can be difficult for working parents.

In addition, Georgia adopted “Express Lane Eligibility,” where the state uses information that families already have submitted to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help make an eligibility determination for Medicaid or PeachCare.

A consumer advocacy group Wednesday commended the state for streamlining its children’s enrollment processes.

Georgia’s bonus ‘‘is about $1 million less than we expected, but we’re just thankful the Department [of Community Health] went for it,’’ said Pat Willis, executive director of the group Voices for Georgia’s Children.  Last year, Georgia was among 32 states that did not apply for the bonus. (Here’s a GHN article about last year’s bonuses.)

The state could take other measures that would increase enrollment further, said Willis. She said Georgia should make eligibility for Medicaid extend for 12 months at a time, instead of the current six months.

Medicaid, the federal/state insurance program for the poor and disabled, covers more than 1 million Georgia children, while PeachCare, the program for uninsured children of middle-income parents, covers about 200,000.

HHS said the number of children with insurance nationally increased by 1.2 million since the CHIP reauthorization law. The agency said that this increase has been entirely due to greater enrollment in public programs such as Medicaid and CHIP.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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