Group: End of COVID emergency could threaten Medicaid coverage

Group: End of COVID emergency could threaten Medicaid coverage
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 7:01 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The COVID-19 pandemic forced government at all levels to take unprecedented action, and now as the pandemic wanes, officials have to consider ways to unwind those emergency actions.

The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy says one such move could leave children without health insurance whenever President Biden ends the federal, public health emergency -- perhaps in early 2023.

The center’s director, Kelly Allen, told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Families the emergency action has provided continuous access to Medicaid since the pandemic.

“The idea behind this continuous coverage provision during the federal public health emergency that has been in place, was to keep kids insured when they might get sick during the pandemic and also to provide a buffer against the social and economic disruptions that have happened over the last couple years,” she told lawmakers at the Dec. 5 committee meeting.

Allen told lawmakers her group estimates the situation could impact as many as 42,000 children in West Virginia. About half lost Medicaid due to an increase in their family income. The other half was due to paperwork issues as families will have to re-apply for the first time in years.

“Things like, they still qualify for Medicaid, but maybe they moved over the last two years and they don’t get the paperwork packet telling them they need to enroll,” she told lawmakers. “Maybe they fill out the form incorrectly. Maybe they don’t get their income verification forms back in time.”

Allen discussed the potential impact Friday in a conversation with WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

“We see higher rates of bad health outcomes when kids don’t have coverage, if they’re not getting their regular check-ups, getting prescriptions that they need,” she said. “There’s higher rates of kids, and adults, going to the emergency room when they become uninsured, and we don’t want that to happen.”

Allen says those who no longer qualify should be moved off Medicaid, but she says transition should be smooth.

“I think it just has important implications for the state,” she told WSAZ. “When kids are healthy, they’re able to go to school, they have better educational outcomes, they do better in the future.”

One idea pitched by the Center on Budget & Policy -- additional state assistance to help families who will face paying a monthly premium after being moved off Medicaid.

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, chairs the Joint Committee on Children and Families. She did not commit to additional state assistance, telling WSAZ she was unsure of requirements for plans those families may transition to.

“What role should lawmakers have in helping these families?” asked WSAZ Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson.

“So, obviously it is a concern to us,” she replied. “We want to help transition and find other options for themselves, for their families. And then, if they are also still eligible, we want to make sure that we streamline the process for them to continue their eligibility as much as we can.”

So what can families do now to prepare?

Allen urges Medicaid recipients to update contact information with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, especially if the recipient moved since 2020. Choosing not to do so could place the recipient at risk.

“You might just not get the information you need from DHHR, and that could result in somebody who’s still eligible for coverage, losing that coverage,” she said.

The Legislature’s 60-day, regular session begins Jan. 11, 2023.