Senior Policy Analyst
States facing increased demands on their Medicaid programs due to COVID-19 should prioritize enrolling people in Medicaid and making sure they can stay enrolled. The new Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires states to take some steps in this direction, but they can and should do more.
The COVID-19 emergency is putting intense pressure on state and local agencies that administer Medicaid. They face increased demand as more people seek health coverage and more become eligible for Medicaid because they’re working less or lost their jobs entirely. Meanwhile, some agencies have far less capacity, as they close eligibility offices to achieve social distancing, and many caseworkers take time off to address their own health concerns or perform caregiving responsibilities.
The higher demand and less capacity could mean significant delays in processing new Medicaid applications and renewals for current beneficiaries when people need coverage the most. States should shift staff and other scarce resources toward helping people get and keep coverage and away from actions that would cost beneficiaries their coverage, and they should implement policies to reduce state administrative workloads.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act should help states do so. It provides an estimated $36 billion in additional federal funding to states. For states to be eligible for the funds, they must abide by a maintenance-of-effort (MOE) provision that’s designed to protect people’s access to health coverage during the crisis. Among other requirements, states are barred from ending coverage during the national public health emergency, except for individuals who voluntarily end their coverage or move out of state.
To comply, while also freeing up resources to process new applications and minimize disruptions in coverage, agencies should stop activities that would end coverage for current beneficiaries or those who enroll during the public health emergency. That includes:
Agencies have additional flexibility to implement policies that reduce their workload and help beneficiaries. To ensure that people can easily and quickly get coverage, agencies should simplify and expedite application processing. They should: