Thousands of Kansans are at risk of losing Medicaid coverage as the state begins reviewing who still qualifies after a three-year pause. Experts and health care advocates advise people on how to best prepare.
More than 500,000 Kansans face a review over the next year to see if they still qualify for Medicaid — the first check on eligibility since the pandemic prompted a temporary change in rules three years ago.
That same federal declaration of a public health emergency effectively added tens of thousands to the state’s KanCare Medicaid program — people who could now lose that government health insurance — by temporarily barring states from stripping away the coverage.
KanCare enrollment rose by about 130,000 people during the pandemic.
The pruning of Kansas Medicaid rolls started last month when the state sent out letters to the first round of people up for renewal. This month, those 33,000 households will be reviewed to see if they still qualify.
Experts and health care advocates suggest all Kansans on Medicaid update their addresses and prepare needed documents, such as proof of income.
Even with the right documentation, tens of thousands of people currently in the KanCare program may no longer qualify for Medicaid. That means looking for coverage elsewhere — like through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
For starters, make sure the state has your current address.
“Folks could lose coverage, even if they are still technically eligible,” said Kate Gramlich, a project manager for health insurance enrollment group Cover Kansas. “They would still lose coverage if they do not submit, like, their renewal paperwork with the information.”
She said homeless people can use the address of a friend, a relative or a trusted individual in the community who agrees to let you use their address.
“The next crucial step is to actually watch your mail at that address and you will receive paperwork that is specific to your individual household situation,” Gramlich said.
That paperwork should walk through the steps to verify Medicaid eligibility.
Cover Kansas focuses on helping people with open enrollment for ACA marketplace insurance. But the group’s navigators — trained to walk people through the marketplace enrollment — can also help with the Medicaid renewal process.
“Navigators are already such a kind of a trusted source of information,” Gramlich said. “We are trained to be unbiased.”
El Centro Inc., a non-profit serving the Hispanic community in the Kansas City area, shares renewal guidance in Spanish. It sets up tables outside grocery stores and shares information at weekly classes.
Justin Gust, El Centro’s director of community health, said otherwise relatively simple paperwork can prove daunting for self-employed people or day laborers.
“It’s harder to track,” he said. “That data isn’t available.”
Some people might still be filing taxes, one way to show proof of income.
“We’re, like, in the heart of tax season, for example. And so if you’re self-employed, they do rely on a copy of your taxes as proof of income,” Gust said. “So some people are, like, ‘I haven’t filed just yet.’”
Alternative forms can be filled out. Gust said they can be lengthy and confusing. That’s where El Centro, Connect Kansas and other organizations across the state can help.
Called the “Helper Network,” the groups regularly meet with state officials about Medicaid enrollment renewal.
“The ultimate goal … is to … avoid any sort of procedural disenrollment,” Gramlich said.
Some folks might temporarily lose Medicaid coverage because they miss deadlines or lack all the needed paperwork.
Gramlich recommends calling a navigator with any questions or for assistance going through the paperwork even if you’re denied coverage at first.
“It would be a real person who they’d be able to talk to, and they can let them know, you know, what the best next steps are,” Gramlich said. “Or they can connect them with an in-person navigator.”
However, some people going through the renewal process won’t qualify to stay on Medicaid.
For those who are no longer eligible for Medicaid, the ACA marketplace might offer more affordable options than in the past.
“More people are qualified to receive tax assistance and cost-sharing benefits than they had been at the beginning of the pandemic,” Gramlich said. “So the situation is going to be different and, hopefully, more accessible to more people than it was in 2020 when this whole thing started.”
For people unable to afford policies sold on the ACA marketplace and no longer eligible for Medicaid, community health centers can be an option. They charge for care on a sliding scale based on income.
“And the paperwork is incredibly easy to fill out,” said Elizabeth Keever, Heartland Health Community Health Center chief development officer.
The center located in Lawrence, Kansas, has seen its caseload more than double since the start of the pandemic. The center also offers help getting insurance through both Medicaid or the ACA marketplace.
Keever said the renewal process will lead to further health inequities for Black and Latino families, who statistically already have less access to quality care.
“It’s really unfortunate,” she said, “to be faced with an opportunity where people are finally seeking those health care services that they were putting off during the pandemic and now just to lose their potential coverage.”
Resources to reach out to:
Kansas Department of Health and Environment, KanCare
913-677-0100; ask for “Health Navigation”
Heartland Community Health Center, A Compass Project
785-841-7297 ext. 219; email@example.com
Samantha Horton covers health care for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SamHorton5.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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