More transparency is needed in the waiver process for Medicaid and the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, Senate Democrats urged in a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. HHS has the authority to waive federal regulations that apply to Medicaid and SCHIP, and HHS has written policies and procedures for waiver review that require public input and transparency.
However, the Government Accountability Office recently reported that HHS no longer follows these policies, which has limited the publics ability to provide valuable input, according to the letter from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
HHS informed the GAO that its current policy is to post waiver proposals on its Web site prior to approval. Yet, in approving waivers for Florida and Vermont, HHS didnt fulfill this basic requirement for transparency, according to the letter. The senators specifically asked Leavitt to expand opportunities for public comment on waivers for these programs. That is the best way to make sure that the Childrens Health Insurance Program stays open and responsive to the families it serves, and gets low-income children the doctors visits and medicines they need to stay healthy, Baucus said in a written statement.
CMS officials had not responded to requests for comment by deadline. -- by Jennifer Lubell