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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

TAPPING MEDICAID DATA TO HELP FAMILIES WITH DISABLED CHILDREN

Between 2013 and 2022, the number of children with disabilities receiving benefits from the federal Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) dropped by close to 25%. While SSI is a federal program, the drop in disabled child enrollment is highly relevant to state and county benefit programs and to the low-income individuals whose children with severe disabilities are likely eligible for SSI cash benefits but have not applied. 


Researchers at Mathematica are currently exploring the reasons for the decline. Three of the fundamental factors:


  • A falloff in applications during Covid,

  • Pre-Pandemic factors such as the closing of Social Security field offices

  • A large increase in continuing disability reviews around 2015.


Last week, we talked with Mathematica’s David Wittenburg and Michael Levere, who have been studying Medicaid data to spot families with severely disabled children who have health claims similar or greater than child recipients of SSI. In a study that was published late last year by the Center for Retirement Research, and updated in February, their work surfaced nearly 115,000 children who could likely qualify for federal SSI benefits but aren’t receiving them.



“There’s been declining participation and we wanted to understand how many people who aren’t receiving benefits might be eligible,” said Levere, who is also an assistant professor at Colgate University. Motivating the two researchers was the knowledge that SSI use differs dramatically from county to county and state to state. 


Tremendous management advances could come if Medicaid and Social Security data could easily be shared. There are multiple legal and privacy reasons that this hasn’t happened at a federal level, but the Mathematica research shows that by probing Medicaid claims data, states and the federal government could do a much better job of targeting families with severely disabled children who could benefit from SSI. “Targeted outreach is better than general outreach. You get much better messaging to the people who can use this,” says Wittenburg.


By encouraging SSI applications, low-income families could gain access to benefits that are more financially generous than Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, where cash payments differ greatly from state to state. State TANF benefits also tend to be more temporary and are provided to families rather than to disabled children individually. That means that if there is more than one disabled child in a family, each could qualify for a separate cash payment (up to a benefit of $943 a month). “It’s important that the eligibility is individually based,” Wittenburg said. 


Better ways to share data could also help simplify application and review processes. Theoretically, shared data on the federal level would mean that the Social Security Administration could use Medicaid claims information for disabled children rather than collecting its own medical data in the application process – a change that would simplify a complex procedure for families as well. “If there was more universal data sharing, then when people on Medicaid applied for SSI, their health records could just be automatically collected with their application,” said Levere. “And that’s less of a burden to the family.”


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