Report: More than 59,000 Tennessee kids lose health coverage post-COVID

Published 8:52 am Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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A new report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families says nationwide, 4.16 million fewer children were enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

The report tracks the impacts of lifting COVID-19 coverage protections on Medicaid enrollment, showing that Tennessee experienced more than 59,000 disenrollments.

Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, said 76% of people in Tennessee who’ve lost coverage did so due to procedural reasons, meaning the state doesn’t know whether they’re eligible or not.

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“A couple of weeks ago, we had a two-year-old who had recently had a heart transplant. His family got the packet, they mailed the packet back, and then the response they got back was, ‘The income you submitted showed you were over the income.’ The two-year-old with a heart transplant got a notice that said, ‘Because you never responded to the packet, you’re losing coverage,'” she lamented.

Johnson added a persistent issue they are seeing is, the state has been sending Medicaid renewal packets to the wrong addresses, causing families to lose coverage, and continuing the process without fixing the issues.

Johnson said half of children in Tennessee rely on Medicaid for their health coverage. While Tennessee is a low-income state, the Medicaid income eligibility threshold allows many children to qualify for this insurance program, which is crucial for their well-being.

“We know with comprehensive health coverage, children do better as adults, are more likely to finish college, and they’re more likely to have jobs as adults that don’t require them to ever be on public assistance,” Johnson explained. “At least 60,000 children have lost coverage – and probably more like 100,000 children – have lost coverage.”

Joan Alker, research professor, McCourt School of Public Policy, and executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said they have closely monitored how ending the pandemic’s continuous Medicaid coverage policy has affected children’s enrollment. She called it a lack of political leadership, since governors are ultimately accountable for administering Medicaid and CHIP programs in their states.

As Alker put it, “States that saw a really large number of children disenrolling, I place that squarely on the governor – because the folks doing the work needed the resources, they needed the staffing, they needed the procedures and the effort to make this a smoother process than it has been.”