LINCOLN — Repeated stories about Medicaid denying treatment for troubled children provoked a response Tuesday from the Nebraska Legislature.
Senators voted 33-0 for a bill that would "shed sunlight" on the process used by the Department of Health and Human Services to decide what care to cover.
State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said Legislative Bill 1063 would send a message to state Medicaid officials.
"It makes a statement that we are going to monitor the denials of treatment for kids," she said.
LB 1063 would require regular reports to the Legislature about denials of treatment for children.
It emphasizes that the state Medicaid program must follow federal law in determining whether care is medically necessary and bars Medicaid from denying treatment based solely on a child's diagnosis or condition.
It also requires that guidelines used to determine Medicaid coverage go through the same public comment and review process required for adopting rules and regulations.
Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha said she introduced the measure because of the number of families who are being forced to make their children state wards to get care.
"Nebraska is shirking a major responsibility to our children by denying behavioral health care," she said.
Parents and health care providers testified at the hearing on LB 1063 about their difficulties getting Medicaid approval to start or continue treatment for severely troubled children.
Cook said the bill could reduce the number of children in the child welfare system and lower state costs.
Treatment for state wards is paid for with child welfare dollars, which are largely state funds, while Medicaid is about 60 percent federal and 40 percent state dollars.
Cook took issue with a letter sent to senators late Monday by state Medicaid Director Vivianne Chaumont.
In the letter, Chaumont said called the bill problematic because it appears to be an attempt to expand Medicaid services.
She said the bill leaves the program open to an "indeterminate expansion of benefits to solve a problem that has not been documented by Nebraska Medicaid, the (federal) Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or any court."
Cook offered an amendment to clarify that the bill would not require the Medicaid program to provide any care not already required under federal law.
Contact the writer: