Legislature(2001 - 2002)
03/04/2002 09:10 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE BILL NO. 341 "An Act making a special appropriation for a study of recipients of welfare and Medicaid; and providing for an effective date." This was the first hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Kelly spoke to the bill, relaying conversations held during hearings on the FY 03 supplemental budget requests for Medicaid funding, regarding the "root causes" of state welfare dependency. He noted studies have been conducted to determine age, income levels and other factors of welfare recipients. However, he remarked there is no data reflecting, "exactly why it is that they got there in the first place." He spoke to the correlation between recipients and drug abuse, alcoholism, single parenthood and limited education as found in national research, although no such studies have been conducted in Alaska. Co-Chair Kelly stated this legislation is "designed to find out what kind of choices people are making in their lives that possibly they have some control over that ultimately leads to being on welfare." Senator Ward asked if the proposed study would attempt to identify why certain recipients relocated to this state and whether Alaska's benefit programs are a "magnet". Co-Chair Kelly responded it is his intention such questions would be included in the survey. BOB LABBE, Director, Division of Medical Assistance, Department of Health and Social Services, testified via teleconference from Anchorage and suggested conducting the study in conjunction with the Division. He listed a cost-benefit of this option would be the ability to receive 50-percent federal matching funds for the project. He referenced a January 1996 Division of Medical Assistance report prepared by the McDowell Group regarding the characteristics of Alaska Medicaid recipients. He recalled this report was undertaken to answer the question of whether people were relocating to Alaska specifically to receive benefits, and more generally, what factors were responsible for the increased caseload at that time. Co-Chair Kelly commented this is a good suggestion and worth considering. Co-Chair Kelly shared he had reviewed the 1996 report, which was useful although it must be updated due to changes in demographics in the age of the population. He repeated "consistent" testimony relating to Medicaid indicates, "one of the biggest drivers is the aging population." PEGGY BROWN, Public Policy Analyst, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault testified she was present to monitor the legislation and welfare reform in general. Senator Hoffman asked if the witness supports the legislation. Ms. Brown supported the knowledge of why recipients are dependant upon welfare, as it would assist agencies in providing aide. However, she did not think such a study would benefits recipients. She understood the purpose of identifying those recipients from out of state given the increased costs in Medicaid, but her concern is for those who already live in Alaska. Co-Chair Kelly asked if the Department would be subject to any restrictions on the perimeters of such a study. Mr. Labbe surmised it would not, so long as the study focused on the factors influencing the cost of the Medicaid program, or had another Medicaid-related purpose. Co-Chair Kelly asked if such a study could address other public assistance programs as well. Mr. Labbe answered the study could be "constructed" to include other state public assistance programs as well and still meet federal standards. He explained this is because many participants of other public assistance programs also receive Medicaid benefits. Co-Chair Kelly asked if there would be restrictions on the kind of information a study could collect if federal funding was involved. Mr. Labbe was unaware of any restrictions imposed with the use of this federal funding. He noted the Division has undertaken "a number of activities over the years" utilizing federal Medicaid matching funds. "Sometimes the relationships are very direct and some are a little less direct," he stated with regard to the correlation between the projects and the Medicaid program. He suggested the proposed survey questions should be reviewed to determine any conflict with receipt of the federal funding. Co-Chair Kelly had concern "that we couldn't get the scope of what we need if we're attached to federal dollars and any of the requirements they might have." He appreciated the suggestion and stated the Committee would discuss the option. He encouraged the Division to update the 1996 McDowell study. JIM NORDLUND, Director, Division of Public Assistance, Department of Health and Social Services, testified in Juneau that he did not foresee any difficulty in utilizing federal funding for the proposed study. He noted, "there is a great deal of overlap between those people" who receive temporary public assistance and Medicaid benefits. Co-Chair Kelly ordered the bill HELD in Committee.