Thousands of Alaskans at risk of losing Medicaid coverage

A federal rule that prevented states from removing people from Medicaid rolls during the pandemic ended last week and some may lose health coverage if they no longer meet low-income guidelines, an official at SEARHC offices in Sitka said.

However, those who do lose Medicaid will have a special enrollment period to get health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, said Susan Briles, patient health benefits manager at SEARHC. The federal program subsidizes insurance premiums based on an individual’s income.

Before the 2020 pandemic rule, Medicaid users were required to renew their applications annually and the states — which administer the program — would verify income. That requirement was suspended during the pandemic’s public health emergency but the automatic, continuous enrollment provision ended Friday and will start phasing out, as part of the congressional spending plan approved last December.

Public health advocates are concerned that millions of Americans could lose their Medicaid benefits.

Beginning this month, the state of Alaska is resuming its annual reviews of Medicaid eligibility for thousands of individuals.

In Alaska, about 42% of residents up to 19 years old were covered by Medicaid as of January 2022. The number was 23% for Alaskans 20 through 64 years old.

More than 25,000 Southeast Alaskans were enrolled in Medicaid in the state fiscal year that ended last June, according to Department of Health statistics. Statewide, the number was 267,000.

The state Division of Public Assistance had not responded as of Monday to a Sentinel request for the number of people in Wrangell receiving Medicaid benefits.

“For the last two years through the pandemic, Medicaid has been what they call ‘rolling,’ just meaning it’s continuing,” said Briles. “This is a federal unwinding, it’s just happening all at the same time in different states. The thought is a lot of people are on Medicaid that shouldn’t be on Medicaid now because maybe they’re making more money or they’ve had other situation changes.”

“(If) you lose Medicaid, because you’re making too much money now, you’re going to get a notice saying within the next 30 days, you’re going to lose your Medicaid coverage.” Briles said.

After receiving a Medicaid renewal form, Alaskans have 60 days to fill out the form and return it to the state Division of Public Assistance. However, that’s where Briles expects some difficulty. The department is “very, very backlogged,” she said, and application processing that used to take a day is more than a month behind schedule.

“The Division of Public Assistance is still processing applications we submitted last year. … Right now they’re registering cases from February,” she said.

“As long as the Division of Public Assistance has your accurate information, you’re going to get your renewal sometime between April (2023) and June of 2024,” Briles said. “As long as you complete the renewal and submit it to the Division of Public Assistance, you’re going to be fine, because either you’re going to stay on Medicaid, or you need to transition to a different program. … It’s going to be an easy transition, and we are here to help you with it.”

Medicaid recipients are advised to update their contact information by calling the state’s Medicaid Information Update Hotline, 1-833-441-1870.

If people receive notice that they will lose their Medicaid coverage, they can call SEARHC at (855) 966-8684 for help in enrolling for private coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The Wrangell Sentinel contributed to this report.


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