Low-Income Flint Residents Receive Emergency Medicaid Expansion

CREDIT: AP Photo, Carlos Osorio

Registered Nurse Brian Jones draws a blood sample from Grayling Stefek, 5, at the Eisenhower Elementary School, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Flint, Mich.AP Photo/Carlos

In the wake of a devastating water contamination crisis, the federal government has approved Michigan’s request for an emergency increase in health insurance access for low-income Flint residents.

An expansion of the state’s Medicaid program will cover an additional 45,000 people — 15,000 of whom are pregnant women and children — whose incomes are up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. This inclusion goes beyond the existing Medicaid expansion in the state, a first for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) agency that approved the move.

“Expanding Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands of expectant mothers and youth means the most vulnerable citizens served by the Flint water supply can now be connected to a wide range of needed health and developmental services,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell in a Thursday press release.

Burwell stressed the need for testing to check for lead levels in children’s bloodstream — the dangerous outcome of high levels of lead in the city’s tap water — and behavioral health services — the anticipated need for children who may suffer from heightened mental health issues, a side affect of lead poisoning. The news comes a day after HHS announced another expansion geared toward Flint’s youngest, who have been found to be the most at-risk for the affects of lead poisoning: $3.6 million in additional funds toward the city’s Head Start program.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder requested this additional expansion on February 14. Snyder, who has become the lead villain responsible for neglecting Flint’s crisis, was one of the first GOP governors to accept President Obama’s Medicaid expansion, a major coverage provision under the Affordable Care Act that has been resisted by Republican leaders.

“Children, teens and young adults exposed to lead need more coverage to get testing and the treatment they need,” Snyder said in his request to CMS. “Expanding these services and lead abatement efforts will mitigate the risks of lead exposure and result in better identifying any long-term health challenges.”

Flint’s water became contaminated in April 2014, after the city stopped using the Detroit’s water system and switched to the local Flint River. The river water, left dangerously untreated for corrosive elements, quickly chipped away at the city’s lead pipe system and funneled lead-heavy water into every residence.

Those covered under the new expansion are some of the most in need of medical care. In Flint, where 40 percent of the population already lives in poverty, the poorest residents were found to have the highest levels of lead in their blood after drinking the contaminated city tap water for over a year.

But lead poisoning isn’t the only side affect of drinking Flint’s water — physicians have also found a major increase in cases of Legionnaires Disease following the city’s water change, though officials have yet to test the water to confirm the potential link.