Sunday, April 11, 2010

States try to link up vets with federal government benefits

y Judy Keen, USA TODAY
Some states are saving millions of dollars by using a national database — originally created to find welfare cheats — to link veterans to health and benefits from the federal government they didn't know were available.

Under the program, the Department of Health and Human Services database is searched to identify veterans who receive Medicaid. Then state veterans officials work with those veterans to determine whether they're eligible for health coverage, long-term care benefits or pensions through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or Department of Defense.

If they are, the veterans are removed from Medicaid rolls, saving cash-strapped states money.

In Washington state, where innovative use of the Public Assistance Reporting Information System began in 2003, 5,655 veterans and their families have qualified for VA or Department of Defense health coverage, and 1,760 have received first-time or increased financial assistance. Savings so far to the state: $18 million that would have been paid by Medicaid, the low-income health program.

Rolla Riley, 88, a Marine wounded on Iwo Jima in World War II, was on Medicaid but now has the full cost of his Yakima, Wash., nursing home paid by the VA, says his stepson, Alan Abel. "It's just terrific," Abel says.

Veterans are shocked when they learn they have benefits often better than Medicaid, says Bill Allman of Washington state's Department of Social and Health Services. He's a Vietnam veteran who devised the system. "This isn't a handout," Allman says. "This is a benefit we earned."

Allman, who will discuss his state's efforts at a national conference next week, has been contacted by about 20 interested states. Among them:

Montana. The system was implemented in 2007, says Russ Hill of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. It has saved the state almost $900,000 in Medicaid costs.

Colorado. It began using the system in November and has identified about 1,600 individuals or families who might qualify, says Robert Douglas of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. Potential savings: about $8 million a year, he says.

California. A test of the system that began last year in three counties has identified 32 veterans eligible for VA coverage, says Toby Douglas of the Department of Health Care Services.

The California Legislative Analyst's Office says the state could save $25 million if 10% of its veterans switched to VA health care. "We're doing the right thing both from a cost-avoidance perspective and ensuring that our veterans get the highest-quality services," Douglas says.

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