Iowa’s Medicaid enrollment has jumped dramatically in the past two months, providing more proof of the state’s faltering economy. Iowa Medicaid Director Jennifer Vermeer says, since the end of July, enrollment has increased by 11,000 people.
"When economic situations deteriorate, you tend to see an increase in the Medicaid population," Vermeer said. "As people lose their jobs or as employers drop health insurance coverage, people tend to enter the Medicaid roll." Medicaid is the government healthcare program for low income families and the disabled. Vermeer says it’s too soon to know if the trend will continue.
"In the last economic downturn, we did not grow at five-to-six-thousand a month. We’re definitely going to see higher growth – but whether it will (continue) at this rate…that would be remarkable," Vermeer said. The increase in Medicaid enrollment is also attributed to the floods this summer and new eligibility rules that allow children to stay on the program for a minimum of 12 months, even if they no longer qualify. Vermeer says because Medicaid is an entitlement program it’s very difficult to trim benefits or limit enrollment.
"It isn’t possible in Medicaid program to say ‘we’re going to cut coverage for Diabetes this year’ or something like that. Under Federal law, you have to treat everyone in the program equally," Vermeer said. "It’s very difficult to identify particular services that can be cut because they may result in increased costs somewhere else. If we were to cut prescription drug coverage, that just means people are going to get sick and end up in the hospital."
The jump in enrollment means lawmakers may need to come up with more money for the Medicaid program. The news comes on the heels of a report that the state will collect $40 million dollars less in tax revenue than anticipated this year.