FCC Lifeline Verifier Links With Medicaid

The FCC said an automated system linking the Medicaid program and the FCC's Lifeline subsidy program has now gone live.

Lifeline is the advanced communications subsidy for consumers in low-income households. It provides a $9.95 monthly subsidy for phone and/or broadband.

The link is part of the FCC's effort to better verify eligibility for the as a way to combat waste, fraud and abuse.

Related: FCC OIG Warns of Ongoing Lifeline Fraud

Medicaid is one of the programs--the school lunch program is another--that qualifies a recipient as a low-income resident eligible for the monthly Lifeline subsidy.

The FCC in 2016 created a third-party eligibility "Verifier" process to independently verify participants, rather than relying on carriers with a conflict of interest, i.e. the incentive to inflate the numbers and pocket the extra.

"Establishing automated connections with existing state and federal programs by which applicants can demonstrate eligibility for Lifeline is key" to that verifier, the FCC says.

The FCC has already established an automated connection with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (eligibility for subsidized housing is also a test of Lifeline eligibility) and a dozen states.

“This partnership between Medicaid and Lifeline is a major step in the implementation of the Verifier,” said FCC chair Ajit Pai in a statement. “I would like to thank Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Seema Verma for her agency’s work with us to bring the economic, educational, and social benefits of Lifeline-enabled broadband to low-income Americans, while helping us reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in the program.”

Pai has long argued the Lifeline program needed changes, including better mechanisms for verifying eligibility.

Related: FCC's Pai Does Not Propose Capping Lifeline Budget...For Now

Last month, Pai circulated to the other commissioners for a vote a final order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that takes steps to strengthen the Lifeline program against waste, fraud and abuse--including making sure subsidies go to folks who are actually still living. But it does not not address the FCC's 2017 proposal to cap the fund, exclude wireless resellers from the program, or create a mandatory minimum contribution by subs toward the cost of the service. Senior FCC staffers speaking on background said those issues are still "pending."

The order was billed as an administrative "clean-up" order, which is why it does not tackle those larger issues. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.