Georgia cuts 95,000 from Medicaid, more coming

Most were cut off for lack of completed paperwork. State is reviewing all 2.8 million Georgia case files to see who still qualifies.
(PHOTO via Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

(PHOTO via Dreamstime/TNS)

More than 95,000 Georgians lost their Medicaid health coverage last month, the state Department of Community Health reported this week, as Georgia finished its second month of requalifying enrollees.

The state’s Medicaid rolls soared as the annual requalifying requirements were suspended during three years of the pandemic emergency. Like other states, Georgia is asking all its 2.8 million beneficiaries to re-apply, and reviewing cases to weed out those who no longer qualify.

Georgia’s rate of disenrollment so far is the fifth highest in the nation among states publicly reporting the data, said an official with the health research nonprofit KFF. The 95,000 dropped were part of a batch of 160,000 it reviewed in June.

Of those who Georgia cut off, the majority might actually still qualify for Medicaid but lost coverage because the state did not receive updated paperwork it requested from them, DCH reported. If people don’t respond to the state’s warning notices and re-file their application, they’re dropped from coverage.

The decision to stop coverage for people because of mistakes or bureaucracy is something federal officials warned states against.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told state governors in a letter on June 12, “I am deeply concerned with the number of people unnecessarily losing coverage, especially those who appear to have lost coverage for avoidable reasons that State Medicaid offices have the power to prevent or mitigate.”

Medicaid is the government health insurance program for poor children and some poor adults who are elderly, federally declared disabled, or meet certain Georgia work or activity requirements. More than half of Georgia births are covered by Medicaid.

Experts note that the majority affected by the Medicaid unwinding in Georgia are parents and children, because under Georgia rules that’s who qualifies for Medicaid most often.

Georgia officials have said they know there will be people who lose Medicaid because they didn’t realize they had to reapply. The officials emphasize the efforts they are making to notify enrollees, including sending notices to the addresses and phone numbers that the state has on file, and a public advertising campaign.

Community Health Commissioner Caylee Noggle, who oversees Medicaid in the state, told the DCH board’s monthly meeting Thursday that her staff was using all the tools it had to reach people who might be cut off.

“Many, many of our members are children and mothers,” Noggle said. “And so we hope that we’ll be able to leverage some of those back-to-school activities to engage our members and make sure that they’re looking out for the notices that are being sent to them, both via mail, phone calls, text reminders. ... We are committed to continuing to do all that we can to make sure that no one loses coverage” who still qualifies or can be covered by other affordable plans, Noggle said.

The state is also trying to re-enroll people automatically when possible by looking into other state databases to see if the required information is there.

Of the 95,000 people Georgia disenrolled in June, 89,000 were disenrolled because the state doesn’t have completed applications from them, it said.

Noggle told the board it’s possible many of those didn’t bother to reapply because they knew they no longer qualified. DCH said in its announcement that it has some evidence that at least 20,000 of those 89,000 would no longer qualify even if they did submit an updated application.

The findings track with experts’ concerns that the re-evaluation process will remove health care coverage from large numbers of Medicaid enrollees simply because of mistakes, either theirs or the state’s.

“I mean, that’s extraordinarily high,” Cynthia Gibson, an attorney with the Georgia Legal Services Program, said of the 89,000 disenrolled for lacking paperwork, out of 160,000. For many, she said, “I’m guessing these are people that didn’t get the notice.”

Gibson is part of a legal service network designated to help people appeal if they are dropped from Medicaid by mistake. She’s only heard a handful of complaints so far from people who were dropped, including some who learned from their doctor or pharmacist that they were no longer covered.

She said she needs to investigate further to understand what’s going on. “But if people aren’t getting the notices,” Gibson said, “then they’re not getting our (phone) number. Because it’s on the notices.”

Jennifer Tolbert, associate director of KFF’s Program on Medicaid and Uninsured, noted that because Georgia has not expanded Medicaid coverage to all poor adults, the state’s Medicaid rolls are weighted toward children. KFF has estimated that as many as 7 million children nationwide could lose coverage in the process of Medicaid requalifying.

Steps Medicaid enrollees can take:

Update your contact information with the state.

Each Medicaid enrollee has a “Gateway” account online with the state and should check it now to make sure it has their correct contact information, such as phone numbers and addresses. This is the way Medicaid will communicate the need to fill out new paperwork or notify people about a loss of coverage. People whose contacts have changed could fail to see state notices.

It’s important to note that just because patients have updated their personal information with their doctor’s office or pharmacy doesn’t mean it’s in their Gateway account.

If you don’t have internet to manage your Gateway account, or you’re helping someone who doesn’t:

  • Call DHS/DFCS at 1-877-GA-DHS-GO (1-877-423-4746)

If you are deaf, blind or have difficulty speaking:

  • Call that number above by dialing 711 (Georgia Relay)

If you don’t have a phone or internet service, or you’re helping someone who doesn’t:

The state Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) will accept a “point of contact,” or another person besides the enrollee who can communicate on their behalf. But the enrollee must establish that person as their point of contact. In metro Atlanta, for example, the health care charity Mercy Care acts sometimes as a point of contact for its own patients.

For frequently asked questions:

The state has set up a special website for the Medicaid unwinding process, with answers to common questions:

For outside help in Spanish:

The Latin-American Association is giving advice:

For help appealing disenrollment:

  • In all Georgia counties except Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett and Cobb, contact:

Georgia Legal Services Program has an informative website:

Or contact them at 1-866-442-3676 or by email: GEORGIAENROLL@GLSP.ORG

  • In metro Atlanta:

Atlanta Legal Aid has a website:

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