Warnock File

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock spearheaded a letter to federal officials asking them to “do more to ensure that eligible Medicaid enrollees are not erroneously removed for procedural technicalities.”

Credit: (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has spearheaded a letter to Biden administration officials expressing concern about how Georgia is handling the phasing out of a federal rule that had previously blocked states from dropping a person’s Medicaid coverage during the pandemic.

“We write to express our concern with new data confirming that Georgia has not been following federal requirements through the Medicaid unwinding process, putting vulnerable Georgians — especially children — at risk of losing their health care,” the letter says.

The letter, dated Friday, Sept. 29, was signed by Sen. Jon Ossoff and Georgia’s five Democratic congressional representatives and sent to Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who is the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The letter is referencing a state systems issue flagged a month ago by Brooks-LaSure’s agency after it was discovered some states may not be auto-renewing enrollees on a person-by-person basis and regardless of the eligibility of others living in their household.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that about a half million people, including children, who lost Medicaid coverage because of the error are now expected to regain it.

Georgia is one of 29 states that told federal officials they were doing the auto-renewals incorrectly or were still working to reinstate those dropped, according to an update released last week by CMS. “Household members with different eligibility statuses” were affected here, but Georgia was one of a handful of states marked as “still assessing” the potential number of people affected.

The lawmakers wrote that they were “gravely concerned” that the error has caused thousands of children to lose coverage.

In July, the state released numbers for the first full group of people to go through the renewal process, revealing that more Georgians lost coverage than kept it in June. About 96,000 people were disenrolled, with 89,000 dropped from the Medicaid rolls because of missing information and not necessarily because they were ineligible.

And children accounted for about two-thirds of all Georgians who lost their Medicaid coverage that month. Most of these young Georgians — 63,481 of them — had their health insurance terminated for procedural reasons.

Those younger than 18 years old represent nearly 69% of the more than 2.7 million people who were covered by Medicaid while the pandemic-era rule was still in place, according to analysis from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“We are concerned that the unwinding process already has deprived Georgia children of health care coverage for which they are eligible, and that this will continue,” the Georgia Democrats wrote in the letter.

In the letter, they asked for the federal agencies to do more “to ensure Georgians are not unnecessarily stripped of their health care through no fault of their own.” And they said lawmakers had given CMS “the authority to exercise robust oversight of states” as the unwinding plays out.

They also ask several questions, such as how CMS will work with Georgia and other states that have experienced the recent snafu to fix the issue and avoid future problems and whether the agency will push states like Georgia to be transparent about the impact. They expect a written response from the federal agencies by Halloween.

“We understand the complexities of Medicaid redeterminations and the toll this massive upheaval puts on the hardworking state agency staff responsible for it,” the letter says.

“In light of ongoing concerns with the implementation of this program in Georgia, we request your agencies leverage every resource to ensure that people who are eligible for Medicaid in Georgia remain enrolled. The lives of Georgians, including children, are at stake.”

The state agencies responsible for the unwinding have said previously that some of the people who have lost coverage for procedural reasons on paper are likely no longer eligible. Those agencies also sent out a press release this month promoting the state’s use of federal waivers to improve the renewal process and avoid unnecessary denials for eligible Georgians.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.