The message state health officials have for the 1.6 million people in Wisconsin who receive health insurance through BadgerCare Plus and other Medicaid programs is three simple words: Watch, read and act.
That’s because for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency in March 2020 Medicaid recipients − low-income adults, children, pregnant women, foster children, elderly adults and people with disabilities − will need to re-enroll in the program to maintain their coverage.
For the past three years, the annual renewal process has been automatic, allowing people to maintain their coverage even if their income increased, which during pre-pandemic times, would disqualify them from Medicaid programs.
With new people coming into the programs and no one coming out, the number of people enrolled in the state- and federally-funded programs in Wisconsin jumped from 1.2 million to 1.6 million over the past three years, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
More:Biden will end COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11 after more than 3 years
Jamie Kuhn, Wisconsin’s Medicaid director, said Thursday the state is unable to provide an estimate as to the number of Wisconsinites who will lose their insurance because re-enrollment will be a yearlong process that begins in May.
However, a December report from the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimated that by the time that yearlong progress ends in June 2024, an estimated 309,000 people are expected to have lost coverage in Wisconsin.
The federal government’s Office of Health Policy estimated 17% of Medicaid insurance holders nationwide will lose coverage over the next year. If that percentage were to hold true in Wisconsin, the number would be slightly lower than the Urban Institute report. It would mean 272,000 of the state’s 1.6 million Medicaid policy holders could face a lapse or complete loss in coverage.
Kuhn stressed that states are required to maintain an individual’s health insurance until that individual has completed the full renewal process.
The renewal process will determine how many of the 1.6 million Wisconsin residents now have incomes that exceed state Medicaid program cutoffs, which are 100% of the federal poverty level or 300% for pregnant women and children. The number of adults and children in a family also are factored in.
“With 1.6 million people in our programs, essentially 1 in 4 people in the state will need to walk through this process over the next year,” Kuhn said.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which included a requirement that Medicaid programs keep people continuously enrolled through the end of whatever month in which the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. In exchange, states received enhanced federal funding.
In December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriation Act, giving states a timeline for ending continuous Medicaid coverage and increased FoodShare benefits. The latter ceased at the end of February. Rolling back those pandemic-era benefits is now being referred to as “unwinding” from the programs.
More:Federal pandemic benefits for food stamps are ending. Here’s the impact on Wisconsin.
If you have moved, update your mailing address with the state at ACCESS.wi.gov or download the free MyAccess smart phone app. Otherwise, you will not receive renewal information.
You should also provide the state with your email and/or cell phone number at ACCESS.wi.gov or the MyAccess app. This provides an additional way for you to receive renewal information.
Watch for a letter, text or email.
This month and into the beginning of April, letters will be mailed to Medicaid recipients. This letter will contain your renewal date. Renewal dates are scheduled between June 2023 and May 2024.
You can also see a copy of this letter by going to ACCESS.wi.gov or the MyAccess app.
The first group of renewals is scheduled for June. People in this group should be receiving a renewal package in May.
Watch for a second piece of mail. This will arrive 45 days before your renewal date, and will contain your renewal packet.
For example, if the first letter says your renewal date is in September, your renewal packet should arrive sometime in July.
“No one needs to renew right now,” Kuhn said. “For some members, this will not be immediate, as we are ‘unwinding’ over a 12-month period of time.”
The state DHS automatically sends information about members who no longer meet the eligibility criteria to healthcare.gov, which prompts a representative to reach out to that individual.
But people in this situation should take the initiative. Federally certified, state licensed “navigator” agencies will provide expert help. You can find a list of navigator agencies by going to Covering Wisconsin’s website. Also, visit Wiscovered.com or healthcare.gov for to learn about other health insurance options.
Talk to your employer about provided plans if that’s an option. Or call 211, the social services hotline. Those 65 and older can call 1-800-Medicare.
BadgerCare Plus is a health care program that helps low-income children, pregnant people and adults in Wisconsin. A detailed chart outlining income requirements is available online at dhs.wisconsin.gov/badgercareplus.
“Update your contact information if you need to, now,” Kuhn said. “Watch and read your mail and act during your 45-day renewal period.”
Jessica Van Egeren is the enterprise health reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She can be reached at email@example.com.