Medicaid Recipients Are Losing Benefits In Droves Without Warning

Approximately 10,000 Medicaid policyholders in Idaho lost their Medicaid eligibility with little to no notice, and more policyholders nationwide will lose their eligibility when the current federal Medicaid policy expires in April.

By Tori Hook | Updated

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There’s arguably never been a time that it was more important to have healthcare coverage than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the federal government put policies in place to make sure that Medicaid recipients couldn’t be removed from the program except in extreme circumstances, some state governments skirted the rule to drop thousands of people during the pandemic. The situation will only get worse as the federal Medicaid policy lapses in April and states once again have more leeway to drop people from their Medicaid programs, many times without much notice by the policyholders themselves.

According to NPR, Idaho dropped almost 10,000 people from its Medicaid roster during the first two years of the pandemic, even though the federal government had prohibited such action. Idaho still stands by its actions, though, saying it attempted to contact policyholders via mail, and only the ones returned as undeliverable or had a change of address were dropped from the program. This left thousands of people, who didn’t receive their letters or didn’t respond with the necessary information, without healthcare during a global health crisis—often without any notice that they’d lost their benefits.

The end of the federal government’s prohibitions against removing people from Medicaid comes in April, and many are calling it “the unwinding,” as it will unwind the public healthcare system as we’ve known for the last few years. State governments will have much more freedom to cut people from their Medicaid programs.

Many Republican states, in particular, are likely to use that freedom to drop significant amounts of people from their programs. In Idaho, almost 450,000 people are on Medicaid, and the state has said that 150,000 of them aren’t eligible for that coverage anymore. In Idaho alone, April could mean that a third of Medicaid recipients will be removed from the program, leaving them vulnerable to financial and medical crises.

Many state and federal officials are predicting absolute chaos in April, when massive amounts of people will lose healthcare coverage through Medicaid because the government couldn’t reach them, or they didn’t complete their renewals.

In many cases, people may not realize they’ve been dropped from the program until they’re trying to cover a medical expense, at which point, some experts, like Tricia Brooks, say, “the damage will be done.” The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid are updating their guidance to hopefully slow some of the de-enrollment and require states to attempt to contact individuals through multiple means before dropping them from coverage.

Many state governments argue that the strain on the Medicaid system, caused by the enrollment of many who aren’t eligible for coverage, is causing more problems across states than dropping those individuals would. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid and the federal government disagree, attempting to put protections in place before “the unwinding.” Most Americans are one unexpected bill away from financial ruin, and that threshold is even closer for those on Medicaid who, upon being dropped, will no longer have any safety net protecting them in the event of a medical emergency.