Starting this month, rules that helped Texans keep Medicaid health insurance during the pandemic ended. These rules expanded access to coverage and allowed recipients to remain enrolled without completing an annual renewal required by federal guidelines.
That means nearly 6 million Texans who get health insurance through Medicaid will have to go through a rescheduling and renewal process. Texas has added nearly two million people to the Medicaid program since December 2019.
It’s unclear how many people will lose access to federal health insurance programs because they no longer qualify under Texas’ more restrictive pre-pandemic rules.
Advocates also worry about people who qualify but can’t make it through the administrative hurdles required to have insurance.
“Completing these applications is not easy, they can take more than an hour to complete. For many… who qualify for these benefits, English is a second language. … That can be a barrier,” Buttner said. “It’s easy to apply for these benefits online, and if they don’t have access to technology, that can be a barrier as well.”
KERA News has put together a guide to help Medicaid recipients understand the changes. For people who need help with this process, the state has a tool to find an office or locate nearby community groups that offer help.
On Tuesday, outreach workers from JPS Health Network and the Tarrant Area Food Bank set up shop in the parking lot of the public hospital system’s Diamond Hill Health Center on Fort Worth’s Northside to help people sign up for assistance and start the Medicaid renewal process.
Butner expects that many people who qualify may lose coverage temporarily because of paperwork problems. This means they will need help to cover medical costs and will turn to already strained services like food banks.
“I’ll tell you what happens in between: They run out of money for basic living things like rent, utilities, gasoline for the car, and they come to the foodbank because it’s a place they can’t go. afford groceries,” he said.
The same is true for people who drop out of Medicaid because they no longer qualify, even though they still earn too little to make ends meet.
Texas is one of 10 states where lawmakers chose to skip the increased funding and coverage authorized under the Affordable Care Act, which left about 1.7 million Texans uninsured before the pandemic.
Low-income families in Texas have faced several setbacks as the pandemic shrinks the stretched safety net and inflation erodes earnings. In March, when pandemic-era food stamp policies ended, SNAP benefits fell by an average of $212 per household.
Starting this month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission began sending renewal notices in yellow envelopes with “Action Required” printed in bright red. Those who have opted for paperless communication will be notified electronically.
People have 30 days to respond and complete each step of the process, or their names will be delisted. If all paperwork and requested information is submitted within that 30-day window, coverage will continue while the state works to redetermine eligibility.
Those determined to no longer be eligible for the program will be enrolled.
“We urge Medicaid recipients to update their information and be on the lookout for renewal notices,” HHS Executive Commissioner Cicely Erwin Young said in a statement.
The commission plans to stall rescheduling for several months. Even after adding more than 1,000 workers, it will take more than a year to complete the process to reassess 5.9 million Medicaid recipients.
Buttner noted that the state is already backlogged.
“I don’t know how [the state will] Process 5.9 million applications in a timely manner without impacting people in our community,” Buttner said.
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