Supporters hold Save Medicaid signs during Senate Democrats’ press conference on the Capitol with disability advocates to oppose the Graham-Cassidy Republican health care bill.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Nearly 3 million people have been released from Medicaid since protection from the Covid-19 pandemic ended in April, with three-quarters of those individuals losing coverage despite the fact that they may still qualify for the public health insurance program, according to data from a KFF health researcher.
Medicaid is the general health insurance program for low-income individuals and families. It is largely funded by the federal government but largely administered by state governments.
Widespread removal of coverage is a worrying trend, because people who lose one form of insurance often struggle to find replacement coverage due to the complexity of the U.S. health insurance system, putting them at risk of eventually becoming uninsured.
About 75% of the 2.7 million people who lost Medicaid coverage in 32 states and Washington, D.C., were kicked out of the program because they didn’t complete their coverage renewal process, according to the latest data released Monday.
This means that their insurance may have been terminated even though they are still eligible for Medicaid.
Texas and Florida account for the largest shares of people who have launched Medicaid in recent months. Half a million people lost their coverage in Texas, 81% of whom had their insurance terminated because they didn’t complete the renewal process. In Florida, 300,000 people have lost coverage, 65% of whom did not complete the paperwork.
The number of people losing Medicaid coverage will only increase this month as 11 more states begin the renewal process for the first time in two years, including large states like California and New York.
The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that as many as 15 million people could lose coverage when all is said and done, although many of those individuals are expected to transition to alternative insurance.
However, nearly 7 million people may lose Medicaid coverage even though they remain eligible for the program, according to HHS.
Congress has prohibited states from kicking people off Medicaid during the public Covid health emergency in exchange for increased funding. As a result, Medicaid enrollment rose to a historic high of more than 86 million people by March 2023, an increase of 26% compared to February 2020, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Medicaid coverage protections expired in April after lawmakers rescinded a provision in federal spending legislation in December that allowed states to begin kicking people out of the program if they were no longer eligible. Medicaid eligibility is largely based on income.
But many people lose coverage simply because of bureaucratic red tape. This often happens when the state has outdated contact information and cannot reach the person. In other cases, the person may not understand how the renewal process works or fail to submit paperwork by the deadline.
It’s especially difficult for people with limited English proficiency to complete the paperwork to renew their Medicaid coverage, said Jennifer Tolbert, an expert on Medicaid and the uninsured at KFF.
HHS estimated last year that one-third of people at risk of missing out on Medicaid are Hispanic and 15% are Black. Current data released from most countries is not broken down by demographic groups.
Children are also losing Medicaid coverage in droves. At least a quarter of a million children have been canceled from Medicaid in Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington state, according to the KFF. The nationwide total is likely to be higher because many states do not provide information on the number of children who lose coverage.
Health experts worry that people — even those who no longer truly qualify for Medicaid, because of a change in income, for example — may not switch to another insurance company or coverage under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. People have to apply for Obamacare annually, and some individuals may not be aware of how the process works.
HHS has opened a special enrollment period to help people who have been kicked off Medicaid find alternative coverage through Obamacare.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a June letter to US governors that he was deeply concerned about the number of people who needlessly lost their Medicaid coverage.
Becerra called on governors to do everything they can to ensure people do not lose coverage for avoidable reasons. The number of people missing out on Medicaid has doubled since Becerra sent that message.
HHS has the power to prevent states from terminating Medicaid coverage for people if the agency determines that local authorities are not making a good faith effort to confirm individuals’ eligibility. CNBC has reached out to HHS for comment on the latest data.
Tolbert said limited data from a handful of states suggests the number of people transitioning to other forms of insurance appears small, though she said that may change as more information comes in.
Tolbert said the rate of uninsured in the US is likely to rise if people struggle to get back on Medicaid or are unable to transition smoothly to another insurance such as Obamacare.