COMMENTARY: KELLI CASEMAN AUGUST 31, 2023 5:57 AM
Since May, over 50,000 West Virginians have lost their health insurance. Over 17,000 of them were kids. And their families may not even know it.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In it was the requirement for state Medicaid programs to keep people continuously enrolled through the end of the public health emergency if the state were to receive additional federal funding. Because of this, Medicaid enrollment grew substantially.
Many states, like West Virginia, adopted a similar option for their Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). By December 2022, enrollment in both programs had increased by 25.8% in our state.
Then this year, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, continuous enrollment ended, and the “unwinding” began — a process of reviewing, renewing and disenrolling individuals. In West Virginia, Medicaid and CHIP eligibility unwinding began in April, with the first benefit closures effective May 1.
How all of this is playing out — from collaborative strategies to transparency in reporting — varies from state to state. For its part, the West Virginia Bureau for Medical Services has been a national leader for its timeliness and transparency in sharing state Medicaid unwinding data. It is following federal guidelines and contacting enrollees. It sends letters, emails, and robocalls to inform them that there has been a policy change, and that action is required. It’s clear they’re doing their due diligence.
But let’s be real. We live in a time where almost every piece of mail we receive has “open immediately” or “important documents enclosed” stamped in red on the envelope. We’re bombarded daily with robocalls for extended car warranties, loan repayments, or additional lines of credit. We have a tendency to ignore these things because we think they’re scams. In fact, there already have been attempts to scam Medicaid recipients as the unwinding progresses.
So it shouldn’t surprise any of us that thousands of West Virginians who still qualify for these programs are falling off the Medicaid and CHIP rolls every month for “procedural reasons,” meaning that the state terminated their coverage because it didn’t have the needed information to determine their eligibility. Either these
Medicaid has always played a vital role as an insurer for low-income families — particularly kids.
According to KFF, 47.1% of West Virginia’s kids qualify for Medicaid and CHIP. The national average is 39%.
And they are health programs that West Virginians have historically valued and supported. According to Georgetown CCF, West Virginia’s uninsured rate for kids was 3.3 in 2021. That was lower than the national average of 5.4.
As our state continues to knock folks off of Medicaid and CHIP enrollment rolls, we shouldn’t continue to watch kids and families lose their health coverage — not because they’re no longer eligible, but because of bureaucratic red tape — when we can do something to stop it.
It’s clear that the biggest challenge facing us is a lack of communication — a reliance on old and perhaps unreliable information on how to reach families across the state. As West Virginia Watch reported last month, Cabin Creek Health System has seen patients realize that they’ve lost their insurance when they access care.
So there’s a lot at stake if we don’t take immediate action. And “we” means everybody. As a state with limited resources, where DHHR field offices are notoriously understaffed and sometimes without internet connectivity, it’s foolish to assume our state health department has the staff and resources to employ a comprehensive outreach approach.
Medicaid and CHIP are integral to our health care system, and it insures nearly half of West Virginia’s kids. This makes us all —health care providers, schools, churches, community resource providers — stakeholders in this effort. We can all spread the word and point families in the right direction.
Families can check their Medicaid/CHIP status online at WV PATH. There, they can also find their renewal month when they need to re-enroll. They can visit their local DHHR office or call the DHHR hotline at 1-877-716-1212 to update their contact information and find local assistance.
WV Navigator can help people with the paperwork. They can also help them navigate the marketplace if they’re no longer eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.
Kids and families needlessly losing their health care — around 13,000 every month — is a big deal. If left unchecked, it will bloat uncompensated care costs of our hospitals and health centers.
It’s a big enough deal that every legislator, media outlet, and community organization should be talking about it. We can keep kids covered, but it will take more heavy lifting from all of us.
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