[Over 1.5 Million People Have Lost Medicaid Coverage; Up To 24 Million Total Might Lose Coverage] - The Lever

As states have begun clearing out their Medicaid rolls for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly three quarters of the Americans who’ve lost coverage have been terminated not because they’re ineligible for the low-income health insurance program, but due to administrative reasons, such as failing to quickly respond to a piece of mail.

In February, President Joe Biden bragged in his State of the Union speech that “more Americans have health insurance now than ever in history.” Biden made that comment six weeks after he set the stage to massively increase the United States’ uninsured population, when he signed legislation from Congress ending the pandemic-era requirement that states maintain Medicaid beneficiaries’ coverage in exchange for extra federal funding.

The measure, passed as part of a year-end spending bill, allowed states to begin mass disenrollments starting in April — a policy decision that is naturally a boon for government contractors that states pay to identify beneficiaries they could potentially remove from the program.

Now that states have resumed annual Medicaid eligibility reviews, an estimated 17 million people, and potentially up to 24 million, could lose Medicaid coverage. According to early data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 1.5 million Americans have already lost coverage, and 1.1 million have lost their health insurance for arbitrary reasons, not because they aren’t eligible.

The Biden Health and Human Services Department (HHS) estimated last year that roughly 45 percent of people who would lose Medicaid coverage once states could begin disenrollments would have their insurance canceled for procedural reasons despite being eligible for the program. The actual proportion of Americans being terminated for such procedural reasons appears to be far higher — 73 percent — according to the latest Kaiser data.

At a health insurance industry conference last week, one lobbyist admitted that the country is witnessing “distressing levels of administrative procedural disenrollments.” A top official from an organization representing state Medicaid directors downplayed those numbers, arguing that it’s too soon to jump to any conclusions.

Medicaid redeterminations and disenrollments were paused for three years during the pandemic, after Congress passed COVID relief legislation that required states to provide continuous coverage for Medicaid recipients in exchange for more funding. That change temporarily made Medicaid a much more generous program, one in which adult enrollees grew by 13.5 million beneficiaries, or 39 percent.

Medicaid redeterminations often result in states cutting off coverage to adults and children who are still technically eligible for the program. The government calls this “administrative churning.”

Last week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote to governors urging them to work to limit procedural disenrollments, and ensure that cancellations are actually based on eligibility.

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The Lever

Events: COVID-19 Pandemic 

Organizations: KFF United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 

People: Joe Biden Xavier Becerra 

Tags: Medicaid Legislation Public Health Poverty 

Type: Headlines