Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Officials Defend Drop in Medicaid Enrollment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Officials Defend Drop in Medicaid Enrollment

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY - Amid a stunning drop in the number of Missourians enrolled in Medicaid, top officials in Gov. Mike Parson's administration are defending a new system that checks eligibility for the health care system for the poor and disabled.

The Missouri Department of Social Services came under fire this week after a report said more than 70,000 Missouri residents -- 56,000 of whom are children -- dropped off Medicaid enrollment in the last year.

The 7 percent enrollment decline was the state's most significant annual decrease since 2006, when lawmakers created tighter eligibility levels for certain groups, said Timothy McBride, a health economist at Washington University in St. Louis who heads the MO HealthNet oversight committee.

The notification system, implemented last spring, sends out an initial letter instructing Medicaid recipients to renew their eligibility within 30 days. If the department does not receive a response during that first month, several warning notices, spanning 144 days total, are mailed out, said Patrick Luebbering, director of the agency's Family Support Division.

He said the system had sent out about 15,000 notices each month since July.

The department increased outreach efforts by contacting managed care providers, circulating reminders on social media and setting up automated calls to recipients several times in the first month.

"We tried to think of everything that was available to us without having access to an actual advertising budget to communicate with people and do it timely," said Caitlin Whaley, director of legislation and communication for the Department of Social Services.

Kim Evans, the director of income maintenance programs at DSS, said that in the past the department had sent fewer notices and did not implement many outreach efforts.

In a oversights committee hearing Friday, Dr. Bridget McCandless tagged the automated phone calls "a waste of time," saying that many people didn't answer unknown callers and that even if Medicaid recipients tried to return the message, the line didn't allow it. …

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