The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released $1.5 billion in cash for states that need help paying for medical care for Gulf Coast evacuees.

Congress set aside a total of $2 billion for Katrina survivor medical care in February, when it passed the Deficit Reduction Act, and the remaining $500 million will be released in the future, HHS officials say.

States that receive the $2 billion in Katrina funding can use it to obtain an additional $4.5 billion in federal matching funds, officials say.

The 32 states that are getting the funding will use some of the cash to cover the cost of temporarily expanding Medicaid programs and some to make payments directly to health care providers, officials say.

Special Katrina Medicaid waivers let states enroll evacuees in their own state Medicaid programs for 5 months, officials say.