By Stephanie Akin
Thousands of children and pregnant women exposed to lead in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., will have access to health care, under an emergency Medicaid expansion announced Thursday.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the measure would extent Medicaid eligibility to approximately 15,000 children and pregnant women exposed to contaminated water last year, when state and federal officials for months failed to inform the city's residents of elevated levels of lead and bacteria. The agreement would also provide extended coverage for approximately 30,000 Flint residents already eligible for Medicaid. HHS did not say how much the expanded services would cost.
"This Medicaid expansion is critical to ensuring that Flint families exposed to high lead levels get the care and support they need, including blood lead level monitoring and comprehensive health services," U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said.
The announcement came as 25 house Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and members of the Congressional Black and Progressive caucuses, prepared to visit the city Friday. The trip would be the third congressional delegation in Flint since President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency there in January. A Democratic presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is scheduled there Sunday.
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who visited the city last week, said the Medicaid expansion would be "a major step toward meeting our nation's obligation" to helping the people of Flint.
"These citizens deserve every tool at the federal, state and local level to identify and correct the extent of the lead exposure and treat its immediate and long-term effects," he said. "I will continue to join with my colleagues, including Rep. Kildee and the rest of the Michigan delegation who have been working hard on behalf of Flint, to ensure that they receive the support from Congress they need in the months and years ahead."
In addition to the Medicaid expansion, the federal Office of Head Start recently announced an added $3.6 million in emergency money to bring more children into the early education program and expand health services for children and families affected by the lead-tainted water. Elevated blood-lead levels can contribute to learning disabilities and other long-term health problems in children.
A bill that would provide federal money and loans to improve drinking water and water infrastructure was expected to reach the Senate floor as early as next week, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told Roll Call.
"I think that there's a tremendous amount of good will and desire to support what's happening, to fix the infrastructure, to support the health and nutrition needs of people in Flint," Stabenow said Wednesday.
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