Georgia plans ‘strategic surge’ to check Medicaid eligibility after 150k children lose coverage

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

December 20, 2023

Georgia will boost spending to get state workers help with handling the massive job of checking the eligibility of all 2.8 million people covered by Medicaid after a high number of children have lost coverage. 

State officials announced Monday that the governor’s office had set aside $54 million in federal funds as part of what Gov. Brian Kemp called a “strategic surge” in the ninth month of the redetermination process.

All states are required to verify the eligibility of everyone with Medicaid coverage after the end of federal pandemic-era protections that had blocked states from dropping people from the program during the public health crisis.

The increased funding was announced the same day the Biden administration sent the governor a letter urging him to take more steps to ensure children are not losing health care coverage because of red tape.

In the letter, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote that he was “deeply alarmed” by data showing that nearly 150,000 Georgia children had lost Medicaid coverage as of September, representing a 9% decline since the national unwinding of a pandemic-era protection started.

Of all states, Georgia had the third highest number of children who have lost Medicaid coverage during the unwinding, trailing only Texas and Florida. Georgia was one of nine states who received a letter from Becerra.

In Georgia, children represent a significant portion of those covered by Medicaid.

“State choices matter,” Becerra said on a call with reporters. “I’m calling on all states, and especially our states where coverage loss is highest, to do what works: Adopt all strategies (the federal government) has offered and value children and their families by ensuring that they get the health coverage that they are legally entitled to.

“It really does make a difference and put simply, we need to put children first,” he added.

Georgia has adopted seven strategies recommended by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is about average nationally, but some states are using as many as 15.

In his letter, Becerra encouraged Kemp to do more to make it easier for eligible children and families to renew their coverage – and rethink taking a pass on fully expanding Medicaid. According to the federal government’s data, young adults who have recently turned 19 represent nearly 28% of the children who have lost Medicaid coverage during the unwinding in non-expansion states.

Georgia has instead adopted a limited expansion program for low-income adults who complete 80 hours of work, school or other qualifying activity. As of last month, 1,809 people had enrolled in the program.

In a press release Monday, the state agencies responsible for the large-scale renewal effort described the $54 million funding plan as a “Georgia-specific solution.”

“This allocation is key in helping the state streamline processes and add critical resources where they are needed most so we are more efficient in serving Georgia families and ensuring those who are eligible for Medicaid remain covered,” Kemp said in a statement.

The funding will be used to process a backlog of Medicaid renewals by tapping about 150 contracted workers to assist state staffers. Contracted workers will also be used to help the state’s overwhelmed call center and assist with responding to Medicaid-related email.

The money will also be used to offer overtime and stipends to state workers.

“We will continue to enhance our services and programs and create opportunities for better outcomes for our Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids populations,” said Russel Carlson, who recently took over as commissioner of the state Department of Community Health.

“Redeterminations will continue to be a massive effort requiring innovative thinking, and we are committed to ensuring all members who are eligible have every opportunity to keep their coverage,” he added.

The department administers Georgia’s insurance program for the poor and disabled, and the Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Children Services is responsible for much of the day-to-day workload.

Georgia was also one of the 29 states that received a letter back in August after it was discovered some states may not be auto-renewing enrollees on a person-by-person basis and regardless of the eligibility of others living in their household. That issue caused children to lose coverage in error.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock spearheaded a Sept. 29 letter signed by Sen. Jon Ossoff and Georgia’s five Democratic congressional representatives that was sent to Becerra and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who is the CMS administrator.

In that letter, the group wrote that they were troubled by how Georgia was handling the unwinding and said they were “gravely concerned” that the renewal error had caused thousands of children to lose coverage. 

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.