Starting this month, the rules that helped Texans maintain healthy health insurance during the pandemic are over. These rules expanded access to coverage and allowed beneficiaries to remain enrolled without completing the annual renewal required under federal guidelines.

This means that approximately six million Texans who got health insurance through Medicaid will need to go through a re-designation and renewal process. Texas has added about two million people to Medicaid since December 2019.

It’s not clear how many people will lose access to the federal health insurance program because they no longer qualify under the more restrictive pre-pandemic Texas rules.

Advocates also worry about people who qualify but cannot get past the administrative hurdles required to remain insured.

“These applications are not easy to complete, they can take over an hour to complete. For many… who qualify for these benefits, English is a second language… that can be a barrier,” Butner said. “It’s easier to apply for these benefits online, and if they don’t have access to technology, that can also be a barrier.”

KERA News has put together a guide to help Medicaid recipients understand the changes. For people who need help with the process, the state has a tool for finding an office or locating nearby community groups that offer help.

On Tuesday, outreach workers from the JPS Health Network and Tarrant Food District Bank set up shop in the parking lot of the Diamond Hill Health Center of Fort Worth’s Northside Public Hospital System to help people sign up for help and begin the Medicaid renewal process.

Buttner expects many eligible people to lose coverage temporarily because of problems with their paperwork. This means that they will need help with medical costs, and will turn to services that are already under stress such as a food bank.

“I’ll tell you what’s going on in the meantime: They’re out of money for basic living necessities like rent, utilities, gas for the car, and they’re coming to the food bank because that’s one place they can go if they can’t,” she said.

The same is true for people who are enrolled in Medicaid because they are no longer eligible, even though they still earn very little to make ends meet.

Texas is one of 10 states where lawmakers have chosen to forgo expanded funding and coverage authorized under the Affordable Care Act, which left about 1.7 million Texans uninsured before the pandemic.

difficult process

Low-income families in Texas have faced a series of setbacks as the pandemic’s extended safety net shrinks and inflation continues to erode earnings. In March, SNAP benefits were cut by an average of $212 per household when pandemic-era food stamp policies ended.

Starting this month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission began sending out renewal notices in yellow envelopes with “Action Required” printed in bright red. Those who opt for paperless communications will be notified electronically.

People have 30 days to respond and complete each step of the process, or they will be disqualified. If all required paperwork and information is submitted within the 30-day window, coverage will continue while the state works to redefine eligibility.

Persons determined not to qualify for the program will be disqualified.

“We urge Medicaid recipients to update their information and look for renewal notices,” HHS Executive Commissioner Cecil Erwin Young said in a statement.

The committee plans to conduct the reassignment in stages over several months. It would take more than a year to complete the process of reevaluating all 5.9 million Medicaid recipients, even after adding more than 1,000 employees.

Buttner points out that the state is already backlogged.

“I do not know how [the state will] Processing 5.9 million requests in a timely manner without impacting people in our community,” Buttner said.

Christopher Connelly is the correspondent for KERA’s One Crisis Away, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at [email protected]. You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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