Millions of New Yorkers in public insurance programs such as...

Millions of New Yorkers in public insurance programs such as Medicaid may eventually lose their coverage. Credit: /iStock

Millions of New Yorkers in public insurance programs such as Medicaid may eventually lose their coverage because of the end of a coronavirus-related continuous enrollment policy.

Starting this spring, the more than 9 million residents enrolled in Medicaid, Child Health Plus and the Essential Plan will need to re-enroll after not having to do so since the early days of the pandemic. The programs provide affordable and free insurance to individuals and families."

Passed by Congress as emergency legislation in 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, allowed for uninterrupted enrollment. Later legislation curbed the policy to at least March 31. And some states will start removing people from Medicaid in April.

But New York health officials say its first determination if participants can re-enroll will take effect in July. The end of the policy, they say, will be completed by May 2024.

"The end of the public health emergency does not mean a downshift in public health," NY State Medicaid Director Amir Bassiri said in a statement. "It is our top priority to reinstate eligibility reviews in a way that … retains coverage for as many enrollees as possible and limits coverage gaps, particularly for vulnerable populations dependent on services.”

What's the concern?

“The fear that we have is they're going to lose their insurance,” said Errol Pierre, senior vice president of state programs at nonprofit health plan Healthfirst. That could be because they’ve changed addresses and didn’t see the notifications, or for other reasons. 

In some cases, they might find out they lack coverage when they seek medical care, Pierre said. “The worst time to find out you don't have insurance is when you actually need it.”

How many Long Islanders could be impacted?

Through the public health emergency, roughly 81,000 people gained coverage in Nassau, while about 102,000 did the same in Suffolk, according to state health department data.

How is New York handling the cases?

New York health officials say they are working with local groups to inform people about renewing their coverage, or getting insurance through other means for those who are no longer eligible.

Renewal information will be given out on a rolling basis, while the deadline will be based on the participants' enrollment end date, they said. That can range from June 30 to May of next year.

Moreover, New York will also use a system to automatically transition people between different health programs, official said.

What’s the notification process?

Health officials say recertification efforts will take place in three phases. The first will involve telling applicants about the changes and to opt-in to get text messages so that they will know when to renew their coverage.

The latter stages will involve enrolling and making sure that enrollees’ addresses and contact information are updated.

The renewal of a plan will happen during the year, just as they did before the pandemic, state health officials said on their website. Renewal for all participants will not happen at the same time.

Participants who are no longer eligible for Medicaid, Child Health Plus or the Essential Plan may be eligible to get other health insurance. 

Do many Medicaid recipients not know about the recertification process?

A survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a public health philanthropy, said that 64% of Medicaid recipients did not realize they had to re-enroll.

David Nemiroff, president and CEO of Harmony Healthcare Long Island — a health center where more than 50% of the clients are on Medicaid — worries that people will unknowingly lose health insurance because of their lack of understanding of the process.

Many people had never been on Medicaid before the pandemic, he said. 

“It's really the concern for folks whose circumstances haven't really changed, need Medicaid, and are not familiar with the recertification process,” said Nemiroff.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Family and Children's Association, called the renewal process “devastating,” saying the potential loss of Medicaid benefits will make health disparities worse.

"We've already started working with our clients to make sure their Medicaid coverage stays in place, that their applications are complete and they can remain in care. That said, we (are) racing against the clock," Reynolds said.

With Maura McDermott

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