As summer wanes and school supplies start popping up in stores, many parents are trying to squeeze in their child’s annual check-up before school starts. For thousands of low- and moderate-income families, healthcare has been accessible for the last few years. During the pandemic, individuals, children, and families on Medicaid were able to stay covered without going through the renewal process. In April, however, this protection ended, and states restarted eligibility reviews – a process known as the “Medicaid unwinding.” This process has been difficult for families to navigate, and children are paying the price.
Due to the bumpy roll out of Montana’s unwinding, over 13,000 children have lost their health insurance, and thousands more are at risk. The high rate of coverage loss among children is partly caused by the confusion around eligibility levels. If a family’s income goes up, the parents may lose their Medicaid eligibility, but the kids may still be eligible. However, parents who think they are ineligible may not fill out the redetermination paperwork, resulting in their kids losing insurance.
Montana has put itself at high risk for such mistakes by attempting to move through the process at a faster rate than almost every state. Three-quarters of individuals removed from Medicaid in Montana have lost their coverage due to paperwork problems. Children are especially in danger – an estimated seven out of 10 children who lose coverage during the unwinding are removed despite still being eligible. Help is hard to come by – parents with questions are facing multi-hour wait times on the Public Assistance Help Line and report difficulty navigating the online system.
With limited communication from the state, an all-hands-on-deck approach is necessary to spread the word to parents – return your redetermination paperwork as soon as possible, regardless of whether you think you will still be eligible. We call on medical providers, schools, and community members to support families during this critical period.
Medical providers can remind parents at office visits to update their addresses on apply.mt.gov, find out when their renewal date is scheduled, and to return all paperwork quickly. Providers can also prep administrative and billing staff to direct people to apply.mt.gov or the Public Assistance Help Line (1-888-706-1535) with any questions about their coverage.
Schools are an important frontline resource for helping provide information to parents and families. As superintendents, principals, and teachers prep back-to-school materials for their families, they should take the opportunity to remind families to keep an eye out for their Medicaid redetermination paperwork and return it as soon as possible, whether they think they are eligible.
Faith leaders, scouting organizations, childcares, and any other leaders who regularly interact with families can also remind parents to return their paperwork. This rushed process has been unnecessarily difficult for Montana families to navigate, and children should not be left to fall through the cracks.
Jackie Semmens is a policy analyst at the Montana Budget and Policy Center
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