(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
By Val Arkoosh
As a doctor, I know firsthand the importance of having quality, affordable, consistent health care coverage in order to be healthy and thrive.
Everyone deserves the dignity and peace of mind of knowing they can see a doctor they trust, or get essential preventive care like cancer screenings for themselves and their family. Knowing that coverage is there allows us to take care of our health when we need to instead of having no choice but wait until a crisis occurs. It makes a huge difference.
That is why the Department of Human Services (DHS) has been aggressively preparing for changes to Medicaid health coverage renewals. These federal changes will start on April 1, 2023 and will affect the millions of Pennsylvanians covered by the program.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicaid recipients were required to renew their coverage every year to make sure they were still eligible. Under federal rules during the pandemic, DHS still sent renewals to recipients, but their health coverage did not change even if they had changes to their eligibility.
A recent federal law has ended this temporary requirement that allowed coverage to continue even if recipients lost eligibility.
Starting on April 1, Medicaid recipients will need to resume annual renewals to maintain their coverage. I want to be very clear: no one will automatically lose their health care coverage without an opportunity to renew or to provide an update to their case information, nor will they automatically lose coverage on April 1.
What this federal action means is that all Medicaid recipients will need to complete renewals sometime in the next 12 months to determine if they are still eligible for Medicaid.
In some cases, DHS may have recent data on file for households and be able to complete the renewal with that information. In those cases, recipients will get a letter telling them their renewal is complete and that coverage will remain active for the next year.
For other cases where recent data isn’t available, DHS will send a renewal packet 30 days before a renewal is due. Recipients can expect to hear from us earlier to let them know that their renewal is coming up and how they can renew online, via mail, in-person, or over the phone.
If someone is no longer eligible after completing a renewal, DHS provides direct referrals to other sources of affordable medical coverage like CHIP and Pennie®, Pennsylvania’s state-based health insurance marketplace. DHS’ goal throughout this process is to make sure that Pennsylvanians maintain health coverage, even if they need to switch from Medicaid to another plan.
For more than a year, DHS and Pennie, the state’s health insurance exchange, have been working to build a comprehensive education and public awareness campaign for Medicaid recipients.
Advertising and grassroots outreach efforts will ramp up in the spring, but we also have resources that any Pennsylvanian can use right now to help spread the word about the importance of keeping contact information up-to-date and completing renewals on time.
These resources are publicly available on our website so that anyone can join us in promoting this message in the weeks and months ahead.
We’ve created social media graphics and regularly make content, flyers and print materials, newsletter text, and more available to help highlight the impending changes wherever and whenever possible. DHS also is committed to making sure that language is not a barrier to renewal, and resources are available in Spanish and other languages. You can find these on DHS’ website.
There are many government agencies, organizations, and individuals who are working with DHS to prepare for these changes but we need leaders from every community to help us spread this vital message.
We know that we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but I sincerely thank all these partners and DHS staff for all they are doing to keep Pennsylvanians covered. Anyone can join our efforts and help your family, friends, and community by spreading the word on the urgent need to complete Medicaid renewals on time.
The Shapiro-Davis administration stands ready to help Pennsylvanians through this period, and we remain steadfast in our goal to protect the health and wellbeing of Pennsylvanians by keeping them covered.
Dr. Val Arkoosh is Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the commonwealth’s largest agency. DHS helps more than 3 million Pennsylvanians through the programs it administers such as Medicaid, food and utility assistance, and much more. Find out more about DHS at dhs.pa.gov. She writes from Harrisburg.
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