Starting this month, the rules that helped Texans maintain Medicaid health insurance during the pandemic are ending. The rules expand coverage access and allow recipients to remain enrolled without completing the annual renewal required by federal guidelines.
That means the nearly 6 million Texans who get health insurance through Medicaid will have to go through a redefinition and renewal process. Texas has added about two million people to its Medicaid program since December 2019.
It’s unclear how many people will lose access to the federal health insurance program because they no longer qualify under Texas’ tougher pre-pandemic rules.
Advocates are also concerned about people who qualify but can’t get past the administrative hoops needed to stay insured.
“The application is not easy to complete, it can take more than an hour to complete. For many people…who qualify for these benefits, English is a second language. … It can be a hindrance,” said Butner. “It’s easier to apply for these benefits online, and if they don’t have access to technology, that can also be a barrier.”
KERA News put together a guide to help Medicaid recipients understand the changes. For people who need help with the process, the state has tools to locate an office or find a nearby community group that offers assistance.
On Tuesday, outreach workers from JPS Health Network and Tarrant Area Food Bank set up shop in the parking lot of the Diamond Hill Health Center public hospital system in Fort Worth’s Northside to help people register for assistance and begin the Medicaid renewal process.
Butner hopes that many eligible people may lose temporary coverage due to problems with their documents. That means they will need help covering medical costs, and will turn to already stressed services like food banks.
“I’ll tell you what happened in the meantime: They ran out of money for basic living necessities like rent, utilities, gas for the car, and they came to the food bank because that was one place they could go if they couldn’t. buy groceries,” he said.
The same is true for people who are withdrawn from Medicaid because they no longer qualify, even though their income is still too little to make ends meet.
Texas is one of 10 states where lawmakers have voted to ignore funding and coverage expansions passed under the Affordable Care Act, which left about 1.7 million Texans uninsured before the pandemic.
Low-income families in Texas have faced a series of setbacks as the expanded pandemic safety net shrinks and inflation continues to eat away at incomes. In March, SNAP benefits decreased by an average of $212 per household when the pandemic-era food stamp policy ended.
Starting this month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission began sending out notices of renewal in yellow envelopes with “Action Required” printed in bright red. Those who choose paperless communication will be notified electronically.
People have 30 days to respond and complete each step of the process, or they will be unenrolled. If all requested documents and information are submitted within that 30 day period, coverage will continue while the state works to redefine eligibility.
Individuals who determine they are no longer eligible for this program will be deenrolled.
“We urge Medicaid beneficiaries to update their information and seek renewal notices,” HHS Executive Commissioner Cecile Erwin Young said in a statement.
The commission plans to change the re-determination over several months. It took more than a year to complete the re-evaluation process of all 5.9 million Medicaid recipients, even after adding more than 1,000 staff.
Butner points out that the state is already underdeveloped.
“I don’t know how [the state will] processing 5.9 million apps in a timely manner without impacting people in our community,” said Butner.