Roughly 61,000 Ohioans in Medicaid are expected to lose their coverage this weekend after failing to take steps to renew their health benefits as required, the state's Medicaid director said Thursday.
Those recipients who did not update their household income or other eligibility information as requested are poised to be terminated from the program Saturday.
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Federal law requires states to "redetermine" annually whether recipients remain eligible for Medicaid. The federal-state program for the poor and disabled provides coverage to nearly one out of every four Ohioans.
The process was on hold in Ohio for a year as the federal health care law was implemented and the state moved to a new computer system. But Ohio recently restarted its checks. Renewal packets will now be mailed monthly to recipients who have been on the program for year.
"We have tried to streamline the process as much as possible," Ohio Medicaid Director John McCarthy said Thursday as he provided an update to a state legislative panel.
It's unclear how the number of people being dropped from Medicaid this month compares with previous months when recipients had to renew their benefits.
"That's what we're trying to figure out," McCarthy told reporters after the hearing. He said the old system might not have measured it properly.
Also uncertain is whether most of those poised to be terminated from Medicaid are most likely still eligible and just failed to respond to their renewals.
"At this point, we don't know," McCarthy told reporters, saying it could be a "mixed bag."
Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns about recipients having trouble with the paperwork and not getting renewal notices at their latest address.
McCarthy said the state has adjusted the forms and tried to increase awareness about the process. "There are definitely a few lessons learned," he said.
Recipients asked to verify their Medicaid eligibility can do so online, at benefits.ohio.gov, by mail or by visiting their county's Job and Family Services office.
This year, the renewal packets and notices to certain Medicaid recipients are automatically generated by the new system. Previously, county agencies handled it.
Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors' Association, said the agencies are still working to help recipients avoid a disruption in coverage.
While Potts acknowledged that many individuals' incomes, addresses and other circumstances could have changed, he said 61,000 terminations this month "seems like an awfully high number."
Rep. Kevin Boyce, a Columbus Democrat, told McCarthy at a legislative hearing earlier this month that he was worried the process could lead to "a mass Medicaid expulsion as opposed to Medicaid expansion."
Thousands of recipients are new to the Medicaid program after Gov. John Kasich extended eligibility to cover more low-income residents, as allowed under President Barack Obama's health care law. Roughly 492,000 Ohioans have enrolled under the expansion, which boosted eligibility to those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,200 for an individual.
Residents who are dropped could turn in their information within 60 days and get retroactive coverage. Should they seek medical care, certain health centers and hospitals could presume their eligibility, provide them with services and then work with them to get re-enrolled.
"The program is designed as a safety net," McCarthy told reporters.