HHS declares public health emergencies in Texas & Louisiana...

On Sunday, HHS Secretary Tom Price officially called it in Texas:

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, MD, declared a public health emergency in Texas on Saturday as Hurricane Harvey was pounding the state's coast.

Harvey made landfall late Friday night with winds topping 130 mph. Forecasts called for the storm to hover over the state for 5 days or more, possibly drenching some areas with as much as 50 inches of rain. Hundreds of thousands were without power and the National Weather Service said parts of Texas could be "uninhabitable for weeks or months."

"Many Medicare beneficiaries have been evacuated to neighboring communities where receiving hospitals and nursing homes may have no health care records, information on current health status or even verification of the person's status as a Medicare beneficiary. Due to the emergency declaration and other actions taken by HHS, CMS is able to waive certain documentation requirements to help ensure facilities can deliver care," an HHS statement read.

Even before making the declaration, HHS had begun readying support for Texas and Louisiana, as forecasters had already predicted devastating effects from Harvey days before it made landfall.

Federal officials were clearly hoping to avoid a repeat of the sluggish government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Trump officially declared a disaster on Friday when the Texas coast had barely begun receiving sprinkles of rain.

HHS is listing Harvey-related resources for medical professionals on its website.

On Monday, as Harvey started to move out of Houston towards its' second victim, Price expanded the emergency declaration to neighboring Louisiana as well:

The Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for Louisiana after massive rains from Hurricane Harvey hit the state.

The declaration comes several days after a similar one was made for Texas. The declaration can help cut red tape for Medicare and Medicaid providers in the states and it frees up funding for disaster response.

"As Louisiana and Texas contend with the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, HHS is committed to doing all that we can to ensure that those affected by this storm receive the vital assistance and support they need," HHS Secretary Tom Price said Monday.

The agency said that in addition to added flexibility for providing assistance to beneficiaries, HHS is deploying about 550 personnel to affected areas.

Harvey has brought record-setting floods to Texas and the Houston area and now is stoking fears of flooding in southwest Louisiana.

President Trump on Monday approved an emergency declaration from Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

I give Price the credit due for doing so, although this was about the biggest no-brainer decision possible, so "credit due" is pretty minimal here.

However, this does raise a related point:

  • Texas, meanwhile, hasn't expanded Medicaid under the ACA...leaving¬†684,000 low-income Texans high and dry (so to speak),¬†caught in the Medicaid gap (plus another 339,000 who should be on Medicaid but are instead mostly in highly-subsidized exchange plans, which is a lot better than nothing but worse for them than Medicaid from an actuarial value POV while also worsening the individual market risk pool, driving rates up by several more points for everyone else on the individual market).

Again, I'm not saying that the Harvey emergency declarations wouldn't still be needed if Texas had expanded Medicaid, just pointing out the blatant cognitive dissonance at play here.