150,000 in Arizona lose Medicaid coverage, most for procedural reasons

Enrollment in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System – the state’s Medicaid program – peaked at more than 2.5 million members this spring, after years of pandemic-era rules expanded coverage. Since those rules were rescinded, about 150,000 people have been removed from the rolls, with 600,000 expected to be dropped by next spring. (File photo by Megan Bridgeman/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – More than three-quarters of the 150,000 people who have been dropped from the state’s Medicaid rolls so far this year were removed for procedural errors, but the state has received only “a handful of appeals.”

That has officials at the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System urging current members to update their information and contact details so they can be alerted to any changes in their status.

“It’s really important that members are aware that this process has started again,” said AHCCCS spokesperson Heidi Capriotti. “It’s been three years since we’ve disenrolled anyone from the Medicaid program in Arizona, and so we’ve been really trying to get the message out to members to make sure their contact information is up to date.”

The cuts in Medicaid enrollment are the first wave of reductions that AHCCCS has projected could reach 600,000 by the end of the year, as the agency reinstates enrollment requirements that had been lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One advocate worries that too many people have already lost coverage.

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“It is a scary number any time people are losing coverage,” said Matt Jewett, director of health policy at the Children’s Action Alliance. He added that “38% of those who are losing coverage are children, which is also concerning to us.”

“Children only get one chance to grow up right so they can do well in school and thrive in life,” Jewett said.

AHCCCS, the state’s Medicaid system, saw enrollment grow by 35% between 2020 and this year, when the state suspended disenrollment because of the pandemic. Enrollment peaked at 2.5 million people in March, before the state began disenrolling members in April.

All 2.5 million members will have their status reviewed on a rolling basis my March 2024, Capriotti said. For many people, she said, this may be the first time they are having to renew their coverage.

“We want to make sure no one loses coverage just because they didn’t complete their renewal,” she said. “And we want to make sure that people who do lose coverage because they’re factually ineligible – like they make too much money – have referrals to the health care marketplace.”

In a letter this month to AHCCCS Director Carmen Heredia, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said he is concerned that too many people will lose coverage under the agency’s “unwinding process.” He called for a series of changes, including extended response time and automatic renewal for people at the federal poverty level or less.

“I am concerned with this rapid rate of coverage loss and the ability of our health care system to absorb an influx of uncompensated care,” Grijalva’s letter said.

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Capriotti said that AHCCCS has established a chat bot and live chat feature on its website to help guide members through the renewals process. She said they have been successful.

“We’ve been getting a lot of chats, they’re answering a lot of questions and getting some great responses, great numbers on responses and people served,” she said.

But Jewett noted that not everyone who needs Medicaid coverage has access to the technology that would let them keep on top of their enrollment. He worries that people living in rural areas may be losing cover unnecessarily.

“We have rural areas, especially in many of our Native American tribal communities, where we can’t assume that the mail is going to get there in two or three days,” Jewett said. “They (state officials) also need to be mindful that not everybody has access, especially lower-income people who are enrolled … they don’t always have the same access to scan things and send them back.”

Capriotti said anyone who has been notified that they were disenrolled for procedural reasons has 90 days to submit a renewal form that can restore their coverage without filling out a complete new application. Information about the renewal process is available at: www.azahcccs.gov/renewals.

Erin Murphy eh-rin mer-fee (she/her)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Erin Murphy expects to graduate from Dublin City University in November 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Murphy is a reporter at the Cronkite News Washington, D.C., bureau and was deputy editor of arts and culture of The College View, DCU’s student publication.