Enrollment is open to help Flint residents access vital healthcare services.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Flint water crisis is a public health emergency. Every single one of the nearly 100,000 residents of Flint have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, with no resolution in sight to ensure them access to safe water.
Meanwhile, the long-term health and wellness of everyone poisoned by toxic levels of lead in Flint is at stake, with children and pregnant women at greatest risk. Children, especially those under six years old, are especially susceptible to the harms of lead exposure, because their bodies absorb more lead than those of adults and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth and other issues.
The health of all adults is at risk due to lead exposure, but for pregnant women there’s the additional danger of exposing their unborn children to lead. This can lead to premature birth and reduced growth of the unborn baby.
Fortunately, there’s some help at hand for the pregnant women and children who were exposed to lead due to the Flint water crisis. At the request of the State of Michigan, the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS) has extended Medicaid coverage and services to Flint residents impacted by lead exposure. Approximately 15,000 additional children and pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid coverage, and 30,000 current Medicaid beneficiaries in the area are eligible for expanded services. This agreement was announced in March and enrollment is already underway.
“We are pleased that we have been able to work quickly with Michigan to develop a program to help ensure those in the Flint area who may have been exposed to lead have access to needed health care services,” said Tim Hill, deputy Medicaid director at CMS. “This coverage will help ensure that children and pregnant women in Flint have access to services to meet their health and developmental needs.”
Medicaid coverage has been expanded to children up to age 21 and pregnant women who were served by the Flint water system from April 2014 up to a date yet to be specified (presumably the date after which Flint’s water is declared safe to drink and use). Children born to the pregnant women served during that time are also eligible.
Medicaid coverage is available for qualified Flint residents who have an income of 400% or less of the federal poverty level ($47,520 for one person or $97,200 for a family of four), and are not already enrolled in Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan or MIChild.
Enrollment is open now. The fastest way to apply is online, but you can also apply by calling the Michigan Health Care Help Line at 1-855-789-5610 (TTY 1-866-501-5656 for people with hearing and speech disabilities).
Additional services are available at no cost to any eligible Flint residents, on top of coverage under Medicaid, the Healthy Michigan Plan or MIChild. These targeted case management (TCM) services connect residents to medical, educational, social or other services they may need, including face-to-face meetings with a case manager who will create a plan of care. Case managers will also help residents connect with community services, from blood lead level testing to transportation services. To find out more about these services provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), call the Beneficiary Help Line at 1-800-642-3195 (TTY 1-866-501-5656 for people with hearing and speech disabilities). For residents whose incomes are above 400% of the poverty level, an option to “buy in” to these TCM services will be available in the future.
Could Michigan be doing more to help the people of Flint? Absolutely. Providing Medicaid coverage is a good start, but it’s only the beginning.
Meanwhile, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint is continuing to raise funds that will go directly to serving the long-term health and well-being of the youngest victims of the Flint water crisis, those under six years of age. All gifts made before December 31, 2016, will be matched 1:1 by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, up to $5 million.
If you’re in a position to help, you can donate to the Flint Child Health Development Fund HERE.
[Photos by Anne Savage.]