Alexander-Corker Amendment Would End Federal Government’s Practice of Stalling State Requests for Medicaid Flexibility

Say that today states’ Medicaid waiver requests may get no response for years, slowing innovations in Medicaid patient care and wasting state money and resources

Posted on March 21, 2013

Washington, D.C., March 21 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today offered an amendment to end the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services practice of ignoring and stalling state Medicaid waiver applications, in some instances for years, which has slowed innovations in care for Medicaid patients and impeded states’ ability to manage their annual budget process.

Alexander said: “It’s bad enough that Washington passes unfunded Medicaid mandates on to states, but ignoring states’ requests for the flexibility to improve care is hurting our most vulnerable people and wasting state resources. This amendment requires Washington to be accountable to states and to Medicaid patients by making a decision in a timely manner.”

Corker said: “When it comes to Medicaid, Congress often ties states’ hands and forces them into a one-size-fits-all situation. From our experience in state government, Lamar and I know this is not an efficient way to operate these programs. Our amendment will help get the federal government out of the states' way and unlock experimentation within states to let them innovate and provide better health care to beneficiaries."

Medicaid is a 1965 program that enables states to offer health care to low-income residents. In order to meet patients’ needs in 2013, states apply for Medicaid waivers to the federal government. Most states operate their programs with multiple waivers. 

Today, the federal government is not required to make a decision regarding a waiver application on any timetable. States are left waiting for indeterminate amounts of time—sometimes withdrawing applications after years of waiting, before the waiver is no longer applicable.

For example, a waiver request submitted by Wisconsin in November 2011 has still not received decision from CMS, according to the agency’s own website.

The purpose of the amendment is to require the federal government to decide on state Medicaid waiver applications within a timely manner to ensure states can manage their own annual budget processes and improve care for Medicaid patients.

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