Drew Snyder, Mississippi Division of Medicaid executive director, gives a presentation during a Senate Medicaid hearing at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, November 9, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Division of Medicaid removed 29,000 Mississippians from its rolls, marking the first wave of disenrollments as the agency reviews eligibility of its beneficiaries after the end of pandemic-era protections. 

As disenrollments continue, the leader of an organization tasked with serving as one of Medicaid’s community partners doesn’t think the agency is doing enough to get the word out about redeterminations. 

Roy Mitchell is the executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, an organization aimed at improving health policies in Mississippi that was chosen as a community partner for Medicaid in increasing public awareness about redeterminations. 

Mitchell’s organization has received materials from Medicaid to spread the word about redetermination, but he thought there would be more coordination between the two groups.

Instead, communications with Medicaid have been sparse, he said.

“Even though we’ve enlisted in this, we get emails maybe once a month,” Mitchell said. “Right now, communications with the community and advocates should be stronger than it’s ever been. Now is not the time to go radio silent in the middle of this complex process that could have grave health and financial consequences for Mississippi families.”

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Matt Westerfield did not respond to Mississippi Today’s questions about the amount of emails, letters and other forms of outreach that have been disseminated since the inception of the agency’s “Stay Covered” campaign to bring awareness to the end of the federal COVID-19 emergency and ensuing redeterminations. He also did not answer questions about the demographic breakdown of the people who were disenrolled or how many people the Mississippi Division of Medicaid estimated would ultimately lose coverage in total.

Mississippi Today also asked Medicaid Executive Director Drew Snyder for a sit-down or phone interview with a Medicaid employee who could answer questions about the unwinding process. Snyder did not respond by the time of the story’s publication.

Mississippi is one of only three states that does not have Medicaid online accounts as of January 2023, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Medicaid is a federal-state program that provides health insurance for low-income people. State Medicaid agencies, which administer the program, were prohibited by federal law from removing people from its rolls starting March 2020 during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Mississippi Medicaid enrollment increased by 187,894 people, or 26%, from March 2020 to June of this year, the agency said in a press release Monday.

In Mississippi, long one of the poorest states in the nation, last month was the first time in Medicaid’s history that its rolls went over 900,000. 

The agency in April began examining the records of 67,695 Mississippians whose coverage would be up for review in June. It found that 29,000, or 43%, were no longer eligible. That’s about 3% of the agency’s total June enrollment. 

Many of them could be children — kids in low-income families make up more than half of Mississippi’s overall Medicaid beneficiaries. 

About 60% of the 29,000 who were removed from Medicaid’s rolls had remained insured during the pandemic because of the extended eligibility rules, according to the agency. 

In its press release, Medicaid said if beneficiaries believe they have been disenrolled in error, they can appeal the determination. If disenrolled because beneficiaries didn’t provide information required to remain enrolled, once that information is provided, that coverage may be reinstated. 

Westerfield said people whose membership could be not automatically re-enrolled were mailed renewal forms in mid-April. They had 30 days to complete and return that paperwork — if they didn’t, they were disenrolled, and have 120 days to be reconsidered without a new application.

More than 1 million people nationwide have been removed from Medicaid so far, many for not filling out paperwork, indicating that they might still be qualified for coverage. 

Mississippi Medicaid’s “Stay Covered” campaign used outreach efforts including postcard mailing, text and email blasts and flyers to inform Mississippians about the redeterminations and the importance of updating their contact information. 

Mitchell has been monitoring the disenrollment process closely and said awareness could be aided by “genuine interaction” and collaboration between Medicaid and its community partners. 

As an increasing number of Mississippians are disenrolled, Mitchell said it will put further stress on the state’s already-strained hospital system, especially in a non-expansion state such as Mississippi. 

One report puts a third of the state’s rural hospitals at risk of closure, and Republican state leaders have long opposed expanding Medicaid to the working poor. 

“More Mississippians will join the ranks of the uninsured,” Mitchell said. “And a lot of people may not know their eligibility status until they show up to a provider, and that’s a concern.”

Redeterminations will continue for a year. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that up to 24 million people nationally could lose Medicaid coverage during the unwinding.

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.