More than 500,000 Georgians could start losing health coverage by spring if pandemic-era Medicaid relief ends

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians who have had health insurance through Medicaid during the pandemic could start losing their coverage next spring under a federal spending bill introduced this week.

The congress proposal It would end the pandemic-era rule that requires states to continue covering Medicaid enrollees even if they no longer qualify under a state’s eligibility rules. The requirement was included in federal coronavirus legislation passed in March 2020.

Under the terms in the $1.7 trillion spending packageMillions of people could lose coverage nationwide, including some 545,000 Georgians, according to a state estimate, in a process that could begin as soon as April 1 if Congress passes the federal spending bill.

A group of Republican governors, including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, sent President Joe Biden a letter this week asking him not to renew the public health emergency declaration beyond April so states can start cutting their bloated Medicaid rolls, citing costs.

The governors’ plea was made even as states continue to grapple with a “triple epidemic” of rising cases of COVID-19, flu and RSV that threaten to overwhelm their hospitals this winter.

“While the virus will be with us for some time, the emergency phase of the pandemic is behind us,” the 25 governors wrote in a Dec. 19 letter to Biden. “We have come so far since the beginning of the pandemic; we now have the tools and information necessary to help protect our communities from COVID-19.”

The emergency declaration is set to expire on January 15, but the Biden administration is expected to extend it again, keeping it in place until at least April. But the proposed spending bill would decouple the so-called Medicaid rollback process from the federal emergency declaration.

In Georgia, Medicaid enrollment has risen to about 2.6 million people, up from 1.8 million before the pandemic.

That increase came with additional federal funds helping state budget writers navigate the public health crisis, giving Georgia about $2.2 billion in tax relief, or more than double the amount the state spent on enrollees. additional.according to an analysis of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The state closed the last fiscal year with a surplus of $6.6 billion, and revenue for the first five months of the new budget year increased 6.2%, or $741.7 million, over last year.

But even with the federal push, Republican leaders argue that the rule has cost states “hundreds of millions of dollars,” the letter said.

“PHE is negatively impacting states, primarily by artificially increasing our Medicaid-covered population (both traditional and expanded populations), regardless of whether individuals continue to be eligible for the program,” according to the letter.

There won’t be a clear picture of the cost until states can go through the process of identifying those who are no longer eligible for coverage because, for example, they have outgrown the program or their income level has changed, the spokesperson said. de Kemp, Andrew Isenhour.

In all, though, the state has spent about $37.5 billion on benefits for Medicaid enrollees since the start of the pandemic, Isenhour said.

Under the proposed omnibus, the enhanced federal tax for states would be phased out over the next year and would also require one year of continuous coverage for children in low-income households.

‘a lifesaver’

Health care advocates are urging Georgia officials to exercise caution as this key pandemic-era rule, which has guaranteed health care coverage for large portions of Georgians, comes to an end. .

The policy has been a success, says Leah Chan, a senior health analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“During a time of health and economic uncertainty, this policy kept nearly three million Georgians connected to affordable health coverage and brought tax relief to our state,” Chan said.

It’s important that the feds set a date for the Medicaid relaxation to begin, as has been proposed on the omnibus, so state officials, Medicaid managed care organizations, community leaders and others can prepare, he said.

“But we cannot go back to our pre-pandemic status quo, where Georgia had one of the highest uninsured rates in the country,” Chan said. “We have a unique opportunity during the Medicaid rollback planning process to adapt what worked well and build on the success of this policy so that Georgia families remain covered.”

Laura Colbert, executive director of Georgians for a Healthy Future, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, called Medicaid “a lifeline” for individuals and states during the pandemic.

“Its continued coverage protections have enabled Georgia’s children, new and expecting parents, and others to get covered, stay covered, and affordably access health care amid a highly unpredictable pandemic.” said.

Federal and state investments in Medicaid should match the reality on the ground, Colbert said, noting the triple epidemic and low vaccination rates against COVID-19 and flu.

“State and federal leaders must consider these ongoing challenges and adjust Medicaid funding and protections accordingly,” Colbert said. “As a state with one of the highest uninsured rates for children and adults, I would caution against rushing to the end of the PHE, which will end Medicaid’s continued coverage protections.

“As a result, we expect between 245,000 and 545,000 Georgians to go without term or long-term insurance. More than half of the new uninsured will be children,” she added.

Meanwhile, state agencies have been encouraging Georgians with Medicaid coverage to update their contact information through their gateway account.

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