HHS secretary praises Benson on Medicaid

Gov. Craig Benson is one of the few chief executives nationally willing to change the bargain with the federal government and deliver services differently under Medicaid, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

Thompson, in New Hampshire earlier this month to promote the Bush-Cheney ticket and the Medicare drug discount cards for senior citizens, said he doesn’t need congressional approval to sign off on waiver requests, such as the one Benson is said to be studying that would allow New Hampshire to design its own schedule of benefits under Medicaid, as long as it is revenue-neutral to the U.S. treasury.

“I want states to start taking the initiative,” Thompson said during an interview with The Telegraph after a campaign stop at the New Hampshire Community Technical College in Nashua.

“I’m giving them a free hand, but no one is willing except Governor Benson … and I applaud him,” Thompson said.

Thompson stressed this would not lead to turning any state Medicaid program into a block grant, giving a set amount of federal revenue year after year regardless of the growth in families seeking these services.

Critics, however, charge Benson’s goal is to reduce benefits for citizens so he can cope with a $100 million-a-year shortfall in 2006-07 as the Bush administration clamps down on states using Medicaid reimbursement schemes to generate additional revenue.

With 51 percent of its seniors in nursing homes, Thompson said New Hampshire needs to encourage less expensive and more appropriate alternatives, and the federal government is open to offering incentives in that regard.

“I have given more waivers than all previous secretaries combined just to give people the opportunity to try things differently,’’ said Thompson, who as governor of Wisconsin led the movement of states seeking waivers to change welfare programs.

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