Health Insurance

Dems press Kemp on handling of Medicaid ‘unwinding’ after thousands of Georgia kids lose health coverage – WABE

Georgia Democrats on Capitol Hill are again expressing concern over the number of children losing their health insurance coverage during the nationwide Medicaid redetermination process, which has been ongoing since last spring after COVID-19 public health emergency protections ended.

As of last fall, roughly 150,000 Georgia children had their health coverage cut off, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The agency has repeatedly urged the state to do more to keep kids covered.

Now, Mon. Jon Ossoff and Rep. Lucy McBath has sent a joint letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp to improve the state’s handling of Medicaid redetermination.

“It appears that the huge number of Georgia kids who lost health insurance reflects a failure by the state of Georgia to comply with federal requirements during the Medicaid redetermination process. Whole households should not, in one fell swoop, have been thrown off Medicaid. That’s not how the state should have handled Medicaid redetermination,” Ossoff said in an interview.

“We now have a huge number of children who lack coverage. Families and doctors are describing dire impacts on children’s access to health care as a result.”

Ossoff said Kemp’s administration has not provided an updated breakdown of the number of children who have lost coverage so far in 2024.

A Kemp spokesman called the allegations “extremely disheartening.”

“Our state has taken considerable steps, including allocating $54 million in surge staff funding, to efficiently and effectively carry out the review process within the boundaries of federal guidance and provide innovative alternatives through Georgia Pathways and Georgia Access for those who are no longer eligible for traditional Medicaid coverage,” Kemp spokesman Garrison Douglas said in a written statement.

The administration’s outreach program has included sending direct mail to more than 130,000 Medicaid recipients across the state, distributing information about Medicaid redetermination at community events, and working with doctors and healthcare clinics around the state to get the word out to their patients.

Still, advocates report ongoing issues in the processing of Medicaid renewals, with many recipients only learning their health insurance is cut off when they attempt to fill a prescription or receive medical care.

Until last spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal public health emergency rules barred states from removing any Medicaid recipients from their rolls.

All states are now mandated to reevaluate everyone with health insurance through Medicaid, which includes the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

And every individual in the program has to reapply for coverage. The state is processing renewal applications on a rolling basis.

HHS previously flagged Georgia as one of the states processing renewals at the household level rather than at the individual level, leading some children who continued to qualify to lose their coverage.

“I write to you today because your state is among the nine states with the largest number or highest percentage of children who have lost Medicaid or CHIP coverage since full eligibility renewals for these programs restarted this spring,” HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra wrote in a December 2023 letter to Gov. Brian Kemp.

Nearly 3 million people in Georgia used Medicaid health insurance at the start of the so-called Medicaid unwinding, including children with PeachCare for Kids.

The Georgia Department of Community Health releases regular data on the total renewal applications processed, including the number of Georgia Medicaid recipients automatically renewed for coverage, deemed ineligible or terminated for “procedural” reasons––a category that includes people cut off for not meeting paperwork deadlines, missing mail and other avoidable issues.

Anyone who misses a paperwork deadline has 90 days to submit their materials. After that, Medicaid recipients would be terminated and need to reapply for coverage.

The latest Georgia DCH data on Medicaid redetermination applications between May, 2023 and February 2024. (DCH data)

Since May of last year, the latest state data shows the state has processed nearly 1.5 million renewal applications. Of those, 504,312 people had been terminated for procedural reasons, and another 92,682 were deemed ineligible to continue coverage.

It’s unclear exactly how many Georgia children have lost their Medicaid health coverage since last fall.

Officials did not respond to WABE requests for clarification on the number of children included in the latest redetermination data.

States have until this summer to fully complete the Medicaid redetermination process.

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