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Florida kicked their son off Medicaid in the 'unwinding' but not their daughter

In March, mom Indira Navas learned that her son Andres, 6, was kicked off of Florida Medicaid, while her daughter, Camila, 12, was still covered. The family is one of millions dealing with Medicaid red tape this year.
Javier Ojeda
In March, mom Indira Navas learned that her son Andres, 6, was kicked off of Florida Medicaid, while her daughter, Camila, 12, was still covered. The family is one of millions dealing with Medicaid red tape this year.

Indira Navas of Miami found out that her 6-year-old son, Andres, had been disenrolled from Florida's Medicaid program when she took him to a doctor appointment in March. She had scheduled Andres' appointment months in advance and is frustrated that he remains uninsured.

Meanwhile, Navas said the state could not explain why her daughter, Camila, 12, remained covered by Medicaid even though the children live in the same household with their parents.

"It doesn't make sense that they would cover one of my children and not the other," Navas says.

The Navas family are among millions of Americans caught in the bumpy Medicaid unwinding, playing out across the country over the past year.

A close look at the numbers

Nearly a quarter of adults disenrolled from Medicaid say they are now uninsured, according to a survey released April 12 that details how tens of millions of Americans struggled to retain coverage in the government insurance program for low-income people after pandemic-era protections began expiring last spring.

The first national survey of adults whose Medicaid eligibility was reviewed during the unwinding found nearly half of people who lost their government coverage signed back up weeks or months later — suggesting they should never have been dropped in the first place.

While 23% reported being uninsured, an additional 28% found other coverage — through an employer, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act's insurance marketplace, or health care for members of the military, the survey by the health research organization KFF found.

"Twenty-three percent is a striking number especially when you think about the number of people who lost Medicaid coverage," says Chima Ndumele, an associate professor of health policy at the Yale University School of Public Health.

Temporary gaps for some

Going without insurance even for a short period of time can lead people to delay seeking care and leave them at financial risk when they do.

Seven in 10 adults who were disenrolled during the unwinding process say they became uninsured at least temporarily when they lost their Medicaid coverage.

Adrienne Hamar, 49, of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, says she struggled to enroll in an Affordable Care Act marketplace plan this winter after the state informed her that she and her two children no longer qualified for Medicaid. They had been enrolled since 2020. She says phone lines were busy at the state's marketplace and she couldn't complete the process online.

Adrienne Hamar, of Pennsylvania, initially had trouble signing up for an Obamacare plan for herself and her two kids after Medicaid ended for the family.
/ Adrienne Hamar
Adrienne Hamar
Adrienne Hamar, of Pennsylvania, initially had trouble signing up for an Obamacare plan for herself and her two kids after Medicaid ended for the family.

Hamar, who works as a home health aide, and her children were uninsured in March. But since April 1, they've been enrolled in a marketplace plan that, with the help of government subsidies, costs $50 a month for the family.

"I was very relieved," she says. Unsure of their insurance status, Hamar said, her 23-year-old daughter delayed getting a dental checkup.

Hamar's struggles were common, the survey found.

Of adults enrolled in Medicaid before the unwinding, about 35% who tried to renew their coverage described the process as difficult, and about 48% said it was at least somewhat stressful.

About 56% of those disenrolled say they skipped or delayed care or prescriptions while attempting to renew their Medicaid coverage.

"People's current insurance status is likely to be very much in flux, and we would expect at least some of the people who say they are currently uninsured to reenroll in Medicaid — many say they are still trying — or enroll in other coverage within a short period of time," says Jennifer Tolbert, a co-author of the KFF report and the director of KFF's State Health Reform and Data Program.

The survey didn't include children, and the KFF researchers said their findings therefore couldn't be extrapolated to determine how the Medicaid unwinding has affected the overall U.S. uninsured rate, which hit a record low of 7.7% in early 2023. Nearly half of enrollees in Medicaid and the related Children's Health Insurance Program are children.

Enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP grew to a record of nearly 94.5 million in April of last year, three years after the federal government prohibited states from cutting people from their rolls during the covid-19 public health emergency. The unwinding won't be completed until later this year. States are reassessing eligibility for Medicaid among millions of Americans who enrolled before or during the pandemic and dropping those who no longer qualify or did not complete the renewal process.

Nationally, states have disenrolled about 20 million people from Medicaid in the past year, most of them for procedural reasons such as failure to submit required paperwork. That number is expected to grow, as states have a few more months to redetermine enrollees' eligibility.

Among adults who had Medicaid prior to the start of the unwinding, 83% retained their coverage or reenrolled, while 8% found other insurance and 8% were uninsured. The share left uninsured was larger in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA (17%) than in states that have (6%). Forty states have expanded Medicaid to cover everyone with an income under 138% of the federal poverty rate, or $31,200 for a family of four this year.

Discovered when needed

The KFF survey found that nearly 1 in 3 disenrolled adults discovered only when they sought health care — such as going to a doctor or a pharmacy — that they had been dropped from Medicaid.

Kate McEvoy, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, says the sheer volume of millions of people being redetermined for eligibility has overwhelmed some state call centers trying to support enrollees.

She says states have tried many ways to communicate with enrollees, including through public outreach campaigns, text, email, and apps. "Until the moment your coverage is at stake, it's hard to penetrate people's busy lives," she says.

The KFF survey, of 1,227 adults who had Medicaid coverage in early 2023 prior to the start of the unwinding on April 1, 2023, was conducted between Feb. 15, 2024, and March 11, 2024. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

KFF Health News correspondent Daniel Chang contributed to this article.

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF.

Copyright 2024 KFF Health News. To see more, visit KFF Health News.

Phil Galewitz
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