It’s become a fact of life here in the United States that we’ve managed to create a healthcare system NO ONE can afford to use if they are paying out of their own pockets.
This is especially true for people living with incomes at or slightly above the federal poverty level (FPL). Fortunately for Louisiana’s lowest-income residents, including the working poor, we accepted a federal offer in 2016 that allowed us to expand our Medicaid program. Since that expansion, healthcare coverage through Medicaid is available to pretty much every Louisianian who earns 138% or less of FPL. Today, that works out to just over $20,000 a year for a single person, and $41,400 in income for a family of four.
Doing their required due diligence, the Louisiana Department of Health historically did regular checks of the Medicaid population’s eligibility, to make sure the people enrolled meet income and other eligibility requirements. In March 2020, when COVID-19 was scaring all of us, the federal government offered Louisiana enhanced matching funds for the Medicaid program if the state would stop checking eligibility for the duration of the COVID-19 federal Public Health Emergency. This was an important measure because it allowed people to keep healthcare coverage even when their incomes were interrupted by shutdowns. No one was removed from Medicaid in the past three years unless they passed away or moved out of state.
The federal government is ending the Public Health Emergency that enabled continuous Medicaid coverage for the past three years on May 11, 2023. That means Louisiana is resuming eligibility checks on every single Medicaid enrollee (over 2 million people now, some 43% or more of the state’s population). It’s a fair bet that when monthly eligibility checks resume a lot of people are no longer going to qualify for Medicaid. The first effective date people who are no longer Medicaid eligible will be disenrolled from the program is July 1, and monthly checks will go on from there. My personal expectation is that around 25,000 to 30,000 people a month will be disenrolled for at least 12 months in a row.
Wow. That’s a lot of people to be losing healthcare coverage in a pretty short time. So, what can folks do about that?
The Key is the Pink Letter.
The state’s Department of Health is moving heaven and earth trying to get in touch with all 2 million people on the books. Phone calls, emails, texts, social media campaigns. They will spend $89 million on billboards, television and radio ads, you name it, to try and reach every single person enrolled in Medicaid today. That effort includes the pink letter.
Louisiana Medicaid mailed member households a pink letter to make sure we have your correct contact info. We need to hear from you if you didn’t receive one, so you don’t risk losing your healthcare coverage! Update your info at https://t.co/RzPJ428qjb pic.twitter.com/n7wjwbCUei
— Louisiana Department of Health (@LADeptHealth) March 27, 2023
Millions of notification letters are already in the mail, and they are colored pink just to make sure people don’t accidentally throw them away. The letters tell people their Medicaid eligibility status and if they need to provide more info to the state to potentially keep their coverage.
I think at this stage, every single one of us has a friend or family member enrolled in Medicaid. Please take the time to let them know this is happening. Every person’s eligibility is being checked, every person is getting outreach, but you won’t know you’re possibly losing your coverage if you don’t answer your phone or check your mail. PLEASE, advise everyone you know who gets Medicaid about the pink letters and how important they are.
What If You Lose Your Medicaid Coverage?
Now, if you get a pink letter, and you are no longer eligible for Medicaid, what’s your next step?
You might be able to get enrolled on an employer plan. Check with your company’s Human Resources department first and see what they offer. Do this well ahead of your Medicaid cutoff date. Most of the time, enrolling in health insurance doesn’t mean you are covered right away, even with a special enrollment (which losing Medicaid would qualify you for). You don’t want a gap in coverage if you can help it.
If an employer plan doesn’t work for you, or seems too expensive, there are tons of affordable options with generous federal assistance for health insurance on Healthcare.gov. You don’t even have to figure out the site if you don’t want to. Hundreds of informed helpers (known as agents or navigators) around the state do this every day for a living and charge $0 to do it. Plus, you are under no obligation to buy anything when you speak to them. Sound good?
Reach out here to or www.getplanoptions.com, and you can speak to a licensed and bonded agent to help you navigate Healthcare.gov and get the best coverage available to replace your Medicaid. Your agent can ensure you get a plan that your favorite doctor and hospital accepts, covers your prescription drugs, and that you can afford. Don’t want to call Blue Cross? You can find a licensed, certified navigator with Navigators for a Healthy Louisiana by calling 1-800-435-2432.
It’s especially important that you seek help in this process because the plans on Healthcare.gov are VERY different from Medicaid, and from each other. In Medicaid, you pay for nothing out of pocket when you seek medical care; the big challenge is typically making sure the doctor you want to see will take your card.
On Healthcare.gov, you will have to pay out of pocket for some medical care, so it’s important to know up front what the plans cover and what they don’t. It’s often difficult to tell on your own how big a plan’s provider network is, which benefits are covered and what you’d pay out of pocket for different healthcare services. The website is not the easiest to navigate. The best quality plans have star ratings (1 to 5 stars; 5 is the highest), and you should never choose a plan that doesn’t have a rating. Following these tips is a big step forward in selecting your new coverage.
Remember, it’s free to use a pro who is experienced with different types of health plans, and you don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to. And you’re not alone. Hundreds of thousands of my friends and neighbors in Louisiana are about to have to change coverage.
The Straight Talk is, Medicaid is unwinding, lots of people are going to lose their coverage starting July 1, and we don’t want anyone to get caught uninsured! Watch for your pink letter, phone calls or texts from the Department of Health and respond. If you are being unenrolled, don’t panic! You have options, and we are here for you.