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Thursday, September 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Medical eligibility sped up for victims

Seattle Times staff reporter

State and federal officials are streamlining eligibility rules so Hurricane Katrina victims can obtain public health-care assistance more quickly.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), the federal agency that regulates the public programs, has created a special emergency evacuee status for those displaced by the hurricane. That will speed up eligibility screening that usually requires thorough documentation of medical histories and income.

In Washington, the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is complying with the measure, but applicants still must meet state eligibility requirements.

About 300 Katrina evacuees have contacted the American Red Cross office in Seattle seeking assistance.

"Many of the people don't have medical records or proof of income," DSHS spokesman Jim Stevenson said. "CMS has given us the flexibility to handle those, for the moment, without getting snarled in the red tape."

Stevenson said DSHS is urging evacuees seeking assistance to follow four steps:

• Contact your private insurance provider if you have one. If you're not sure how to contact your provider, call 800-644-1818, a toll-free number established by the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans to help hurricane victims contact their providers.

• Register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov or 800-621-FEMA.

• Contact a local American Red Cross office.

• Visit the nearest DSHS Community Service Office to apply for public assistance. Locations of offices can be found at https://wws2.wa.gov/dshs/onlinecso/findservice.asp or by calling 800-865-7801.

Caretaker relief

A group of Washington residents will help spell the caretakers of a New Orleans group home who have been watching over their 69 evacuated residents nonstop since Hurricane Katrina hit.

The residents of the Volunteers of America home for developmentally disabled adults were evacuated to the Superdome and then relocated to a church in Palestine, Texas.

The Volunteers of America Western Washington affiliate is dispatching 10 people tomorrow to relieve the caretakers, some of whom haven't had a chance to contact their families.

The team will be joined by others across the country to rotate shifts, because the patients need 24-hour care.

The group plans to stay for 10 days and may return, if needed, said Phil Smith, spokesman for the organization.

It will cost $15,000 to send the team, but Smith said the Washington organization cannot turn its back on an affiliate in need.

The organization welcomes donations to help offset the costs. Call 425-259-3191 for more information.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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