In California, staffing shortages at county agencies that administer Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program, are making it more difficult for people to renew their coverage.
In Missouri and Florida, callers waited on hold for more than two hours on hotlines to renew their Medicaid coverage.
In Tennessee, the parents of a disabled man who had been on Medicaid for three decades fought with the state this summer to keep him enrolled as he lay dying from pneumonia in a hospital.
Seven months into what was predicted to be the biggest upheaval in the 58-year history of the government health insurance program for people with low incomes and disabilities, states have reviewed the eligibility of more than 28 million people and terminated coverage for over 10 million of them. Millions more are expected to lose Medicaid in the coming months.
The unprecedented enrollment drop comes after federal protections ended this spring that had prohibited states from removing people from Medicaid during the three pandemic years. Since March 2020, enrollment in Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program had surged by more than 22 million to reach 94 million people.
The process of reviewing all recipients’ eligibility has been anything but smooth for many Medicaid enrollees. Some are losing coverage without understanding why. Some are struggling to prove they’re still eligible. Recipients and patient advocates say Medicaid officials sent mandatory renewal forms to outdated addresses, miscalculated income levels, and offered clumsy translations of the documents. Attempting to process the cases of tens of millions of people at the same time also has exacerbated long-standing weaknesses in the bureaucratic system. Some suspect particular states have used the confusing system to discourage enrollment.
“It’s not just bad, but worse than people can imagine,” said Camille Richoux, health policy director for the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. “This unwinding has not been about determining who is eligible by all possible means, but how we can kick people off by all possible means.”
To be sure, some of the Medicaid recipients who signed on to the program when the U.S. unemployment rate soared amid covid-19 lockdowns have since gotten health insurance through new jobs as unemployment dropped back to pre-pandemic lows.
And some of the disenrolled are signing up for Affordable Care Act marketplace plans. Centene CEO Sarah London, for example, told investors on Oct. 24 that the health care giant expected as many as 2.4 million of its 15 million Medicaid managed care members to lose coverage from the unwinding, but more than 1 million customers had joined its exchange plans since the same time last year.
Still, it’s anyone’s guess how many former Medicaid beneficiaries remain uninsured. States don’t track what happens to everyone after they’re disenrolled. And the final tallies likely won’t be known until 2025, after the unwinding finishes by next summer and federal officials survey Americans’ insurance status.