Continuous Enrollment in Medicaid Unwinding: What It Means for Beneficiaries

Continuous Enrollment in Medicaid Unwinding

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled the United States healthcare system and ushered in a new era fraught with challenges and changes. Among the significant government responses was a policy to ensure millions of Americans could sustain their health coverage during the public health emergency: continuous enrollment in Medicaid. As the need for services improves and the emergency status winds down, continuous enrollment will end. What are the possible implications of this unwinding process, possible effects on program recipients, and strategies to avert those adverse outcomes?

What is Continuous Enrollment in Medicaid?

Continuous enrollment in Medicaid was established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in March 2020. This provision required all states to continue coverage for all enrollees in Medicaid during a declared public health emergency, no matter if a person had changes in income or other changes that would typically lead them to lose Medicaid eligibility. The main objective was to maintain stability and provide access to healthcare for at-risk populations during uncertainty.

The Unwinding Process

With the expiry of the public health emergency, states began the re-evaluation process of eligibility for all the enrollees of Medicaid beginning on March 31, 2023, and were required to complete an eligibility renewal for all Medicaid and CHIP enrollees by May 2024. This unwinding process reviews the circumstances around each enrollee’s continued eligibility. A normal renewal process put on hold during the period of the emergency is to be conducted by the states. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have encouraged states to implement it in a manner that is least likely to be disruptive of coverage, including the following steps:

  • Enhanced Communication: Encourage states to use multiple methods for informing beneficiaries about the need to update their information and potential changes in their coverage status.
  • Streamlined Renewal Practices: Simplifying the renewal process will reduce the administrative burden and may help prevent the loss of eligible individuals based on purely procedural reasons.
  • Timeframe Extension: Extending the beneficiary timeframe for responses to renewal notices and submission of necessary documentation may help avoid coverage gaps.

Ability to Change Plans

Beneficiaries have the option to change their Medicaid plans at any time during this process. This flexibility is designed to help individuals find the best coverage that meets their needs, ensuring they continue to receive necessary care without interruption.

Potential Effects on Beneficiaries

There are several dangers in unraveling continuous enrollment for Medicaid. The critical problem is the millions who might lose coverage. Urban Institute estimates put the number of people who might lose their Medicaid coverage in redetermination at around 15 million. They include:

  • Children and families: Many low-income families rely on this form of Medicaid to help take care of their healthcare needs. Loss of coverage can lead to a delay in medical care and increase the cost of care.
  • Those with chronic diseases: People with pre-existing health complications are likely to miss treatment in the event of interruption, more especially in supplies of drugs, and may result in deteriorating health.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities: These are the most vulnerable groups and are likely to face challenges in the redetermination process and may end up without much-needed healthcare.

Mitigation Strategies

There are several ways to cushion the negative impact the unwinding process may have:

  • Enhancing Communication: Using potent communication strategies, states may be able to communicate the imperatives of updating the information, as well as the loss of coverage. This involves plain language, multiple languages, and various communication means (mail, email, text messages).
  • Making Renewal Easy: Streamlined, user-friendly renewal procedures can help overcome many administrative barriers. Such efforts may include pre-populating forms with information already on file, electronic options for renewals and applications, and complementing application assistance with call centers and community-based organizations.
  • Collaborating with Community Organizations: Partnering with local health and social service organizations can help reach and assist beneficiaries, particularly those who are hard to reach or have difficulty navigating the process on their own.
  • Monitoring and Support: States are encouraged to closely monitor the redetermination process to solve any arising problems promptly. Supporting people who lose coverage can also help moderate adverse effects.

The reversal of continuous enrollment in Medicaid symbolizes a significant transition. Appropriate planning with robust mitigation strategies will avert the risks of coverage interruptions for already vulnerable populations. It is essential for states, healthcare providers, and community organizations to work together to ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to essential healthcare services. Through communication, process simplification, and support, the negative impacts of this transition can be significantly reduced.

About the Author

Denise Tedder

Denise Tedder

Medicaid Hub Manager at CHESS