States told they can use Medicaid to fight Zika

States told they can use Medicaid to fight Zika

States can use Medicaid dollars to pay for tools to fight the Zika virus such as mosquito repellent and condoms, according to a new memo from the Obama administration.

The five-page letter, distributed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday, offers long-awaited guidance for states looking to bolster their response to the mosquito-borne virus without extra funding from Congress.  

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For the first time since the beginning of the epidemic, the White House is taking steps to clarify how existing state funding can be used to fight the disease at a time when it says it is short more than $1 billion to fight the disease nationally.

President Obama has requested $1.9 billion for the domestic and international effort. The Senate has lowered that total figure to $1.1 billion, while the House has said it will provide $677 million — two amounts that congressional leaders will work to reconcile after the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

The White House has already moved about a half-billion dollars from its Ebola virus fund to speed up the national response. 

CMS's letter told states for the first time that they can receive Medicaid reimbursement for over-the-counter insect repellents when prescribed by a healthcare provider.

It also clarifies that federal Medicaid dollars can also be used to cover 90 percent of all family planning services, including condoms, oral contraceptives and emergency contraceptives.

Those services are “critical,” the federal memo says, because of the Zika virus’s potential effects on pregnant women and their fetuses. The virus is known to cause a severe birth defect.

The White House also said states “are required to cover all medically necessary diagnostic services related to the detection of a Zika virus infection" — a procedure that is currently costly and typically involves blood samples.