More children lost Medicaid coverage in Pennsylvania in December than in the previous three months combined, according to new Department of Public Welfare numbers that show a total of 88,000 cut since August.
Advocates for the poor and disabled say orders to quickly process a backlog of eligibility reviews, which has mushroomed to more than 700,000 cases, have pushed an already overwhelmed workforce over the edge. Many cuts that legal-services and social workers challenged turned out to involve paperwork that they say DPW lost - sometimes repeatedly, even when clients had receipts - or that had never been sent in the first place.
The official numbers don't count an additional 23,000 children whose benefits were cut and eventually restored retroactively, often with legal help. But poorer people may be less likely to call a lawyer, and child advocates believe thousands have no idea they are now uninsured.
"Our fear is that there are many out there," said Renee Turchi, a pediatrician in St. Christopher's Hospital for Children's special needs clinic, where about 50 children have lost coverage at some point.
On Friday, an infant who was born three months prematurely was brought in for a monthly immunoglobulin injection and was denied, to the surprise of hospital workers and family, when the staff ran the insurance card. Without the preventive shot, Turchi said, complications of a virus could be life-threatening.
The Inquirer reported last week that DPW plans to tighten food-stamp eligibility. That proposal, if implemented on May 1, would be an official change in policy. DPW described the Medicaid cuts, in contrast, as simply the result of catching up on a backlog by enforcing current law, which requires cases to be reviewed for eligibility every six months. (Federal law prohibits the state from changing Medicaid policy.)
Both moves have been touted as part of DPW Secretary Gary Alexander's efforts to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. Alexander has also made clear that he intends to revamp entitlement programs in Pennsylvania to focus more on short-term emergency needs, with an eye toward reducing clients' dependency and saving the state money - a goal too complex to attempt in his first year on the job.
Yes, because the ongoing problems of poverty in a major recession are a simple matter of pulling the crutches away from the "dependent." What would Jesus do? Cut, cut, cut!