State and federal health leaders on Thursday had a message for Minnesotans: Please open your mail.
Ahead of the first-phase deadline for Medicaid recipients to re-up their enrollment or risk losing coverage, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra made a trip to Minneapolis to highlight what’s at stake.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, recipients were able to stay on the program unless they specifically requested to be removed. And the federal government boosted funding to states to help keep more people insured. But that policy ended with the end of the COVID state of emergency.
And now, 1.5 million Minnesotans on Medical Assistance — Minnesota’s version of Medicaid — and MinnesotaCare, the program for those who make too much to be eligible for Medical Assistance, must reenroll and update their information to keep their coverage.
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“Please open your mail. Please read closely what it says. Please respond to that phone call, that text or that email, especially if it's coming from your county health representatives,” Becerra said during a visit to NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center. “We don't want you to lose your health insurance coverage. And if you don't respond, you might.”
Health officials are processing renewal applications on a rolling basis and some recipients could be pushed out of the program if they don’t act before the end of the month. At the state level, they said they’ve been challenged in getting in contact with people because the state’s system is paper-only.
“It's a daunting challenge to find 1.5 million people and ask them to respond to their mail,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead.
Previous underfunding in state IT services and a desire by the department to avoid rolling out a new website too quickly spurred the problem, she said. Despite the setback, Harpstead said she hopes public awareness campaigns, along with partnerships with religious groups, community health clinics and counties can help the state make inroads.
“It's possible that our enrollees now have piles of mail on their kitchen counters, piles of emails in their mailboxes and text messages on their phones, reminding them to come in and renew,” Harpstead said. “And so we hope all of that gets a foothold.”
NorthPoint CEO Stella Whitney-West said translators at the health and wellness center in North Minneapolis are helping patients make sense of the reenrollment letters they’ve received from the state and county.
“When they come here there's a trust,” she said. “There’s a trust because they come here for their health care, there is a trust because they come here to seek services for food, for housing, for employment. And so they develop those relationships.”
The Minnesota Legislature also approved additional funding to help recruit more navigators to help Minnesotans understand and follow-up on those letters, emails and phone calls. And lawmakers passed legislation expanding continuous coverage for young children on Medicaid.
Stearns County Commissioner Tarryl Clark said the deadlines will be tough to make.
“It is a big challenge, people have had this ongoing coverage. And it's made a big difference in many people's lives. And now, everything's changed,” Clark said.
But she said she’s hopeful that from the largest counties to the smallest, officials can get the word out and make sure that the message reaches recipients.
Harpstead said that it’s not yet clear how much enrollment in MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance will shift with the rule change and with shifts in the state’s labor market. She said more Minnesotans might find employment that covers their health insurance and that people who didn’t know they or their children qualified for Medicaid programs could learn more and enroll.
Correction (June 9, 2023): Tarryl Clark’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.