State pauses cancellation of Medicaid due to missing paperwork

The Alaska Division of Public Assistance has temporarily stopped dropping people from Medicaid for paperwork-related reasons after thousands of low-income Alaskans — including families with children — lost health coverage that they may still be eligible to receive.

Nearly 14,000 households have lost their Medicaid coverage in the past two months. Almost 265,000 households were enrolled in the program as recently as April, before the state embarked on the federally required review of participants’ eligibility.

The state Division of Public Assistance has so far reviewed about 10% of its Medicaid caseload to determine if they still meet income and other eligibility requirements.

As yet, Wrangell has not seen much of a drop in coverage due to reviews or paperwork problems.

As of August, 471 households were covered by Medicaid, Alex Huseman, a public information officer with the Department of Health, reported Oct. 5. Almost 500 Wrangell households were on Medicaid last year.

Earlier this summer, the state resumed annual eligibility reviews which had been paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, only a third of Alaskans on Medicaid whose eligibility has been checked have been found eligible and were renewed in the program, according to state data.

Over the past two months, nearly 14,000 people were dropped from the program for procedural reasons, which often means that a family didn’t receive or respond to mail from the Division of Public Assistance requiring them to verify their eligibility.

That can often happen because the state doesn’t have an updated address on file for a family, or a letter from the division gets mistaken for junk mail. But the state doesn’t know exactly why so many people were getting dropped for this reason, said Deb Etheridge, the division director.

“We were seeing a lot of kids being disenrolled,” said Etheridge. “So we paused procedural disenrollments for (October) benefits so that we can do a review of all individuals who haven’t sent their information back to see if we can make an eligibility determination, and if we can get to the bottom of why this is happening.”

As part of that review, she said, applications are being reopened in an effort to increase the number of people who can keep their health coverage. The state is also working on setting up a system to send text messages to people who are missing information.

Before eligibility reviews resumed, approximately one in three Alaskans were enrolled in the state’s Medicaid programs, which are sometimes referred to as DenaliCare and Denali KidCare, and thousands more could lose their coverage in the coming months.

Under a provision in the federal public health emergency that began in March 2020, Alaskans who might otherwise have lost Medicaid coverage due to a new job or other change in status were able to keep their coverage for the past two years without needing to submit annual paperwork — even if their income rose enough that they were no longer eligible for the program.

Medicaid recipients include eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, older adults and people with disabilities. States administer the program, which is funded jointly by states and the federal government.

The Wrangell Sentinel contributed reporting for this story.


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