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State increases Medicaid funds

Significant monetary changes have reached one facet of the North Dakota Medicaid program and such changes could potentially help the 709 households already on Medicaid in Stark County and those who wish to apply, said Marcy Decker, Stark County Social Services income maintenance unit supervisor.

Across the state, monthly household income levels for those deemed "medically needy" increased from $500 per month to $750 beginning July 1.

Decker said the increase was substantial.

"We could have people that might be eligible now," Decker said. "We are anticipating we may see some people come back in and reapply."

Decker said the funding increase only applied to the "medically needy" division of Medicaid and will affect the elderly and disabled.

"If their net countable income is $750 or below, they would not have to pay anything for any Medicaid covered services," Decker said. Co-payments would still apply, but members would not have to pay anything additional.

Two groups make up the Medicaid program, one is categorically eligible and one is medically needy, said Larry Bernhardt, agency director for Stark County Social Services. Bernhardt said the majority of Stark County Social Services clients fall into the "medically needy" category.

The Medicaid program is state and federally funded, with state-paid dollars differing per state.

Bernhardt said North Dakota spent $5.5 million a combination of state and federal dollars, to make the changes.

Maggie Anderson, a representative for the medical services division of the North Dakota Department of Human Services said federal funds cover 63.15 percent of every dollar spent and state funds cover 36.85 percent.

"If you've seen one Medicaid program, you've seen one Medicaid program ... every one of them is so different," Anderson said.

"We have a very liberal Medicaid program in North Dakota," Decker said. "It was a big increase, something that's been needed for a long time."

The increase for the "medically needy" will not only affect medical services, but also will make life a bit easier for recipients, Bernhardt said.

"They don't have to make those decisions between buying groceries and buying their medication," Bernhardt said of the increase in monthly income levels.

District 31 Rep. James Kerzman, of Mott, said he feels the changes are quite positive.

"It's pretty hard to live on $500 a month ... that's why we (Legislature) raised the allowance up," Kerzman said.

While the Department of Human Services is not directly notifying previous applicants of the change, they are viewing the changes in a different light.

"The difference isn't so much that they're eligible or not, the difference is how much more they get to keep in their pocket to pay for these such as food, shelter, clothes, those kinds of things," said Anderson.

Advocates for the increase say it was a long time coming.

"I think it's a wonderful thing," Bernhardt said. "We've been asking for it for almost 10 years with the North Dakota Legislature to raise that amount because these are the poorest of the poor and so those people who have been having to live on $500 a month, that's very difficult in today's economy."