New data shows Mississippi children could be the group most affected by Medicaid’s continuous unwinding.

According to the Mississippi Division of Medicaid’s monthly enrollment reports, 18,710 children have recently been dropped from Medicaid, most of them due to unwinding.

“It’s very troubling to see that children are the vast majority of those losing Medicaid coverage in Mississippi,” said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Federal law prohibited state divisions of Medicaid from terminating beneficiaries starting in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, the emergency order ended in May, and agencies are now reviewing their rolls for the first time in more than three years. 

During the most recent wave of disenrollments in July, more than 22,000 Mississippians were dropped, joining more than 29,000 terminated during the first wave in June. New data shows that more than half of the people dropped in June were children. 

July’s enrollment numbers, which reflect disenrollments that occurred in June, shows that the number of kids enrolled in Medicaid plummeted from 456,314 in June to 437,604 in July. 

In the meantime, the number of children in Mississippi enrolled in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) remained relatively stable, increasing by 120 children during the same time period. 

CHIP provides health care for children whose families are low-income but do not qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid coverage is determined by family income, but the threshold for Mississippi kids to qualify is higher than their parents and other adults. 

“This suggests that many of these children will become uninsured because their parents are working in low wage jobs that don’t offer affordable health insurance for their children,” Alker said. 

Medicaid spokesperson Matt Westerfield confirmed that most of those terminations were due to the unwinding.

Federal research predicts that children and young adults will be affected disproportionately during Medicaid unwinding nationwide, and the majority of those children may still be eligible. 

Mississippi has a high percentage of procedural terminations, meaning many people have been dropped because of failure to return paperwork or similar reasons — reasons that have nothing to do with their eligibility.

Kids in low-income families make up more than half of Mississippi’s overall Medicaid beneficiaries. 

In a state without Medicaid expansion, such as Mississippi, it’s especially devastating, Alker said.

“Children are the single largest group, and procedural terminations for children are a problem because they’re mostly still eligible,” she said.

According to Alker’s organization, only four states, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri and West Virginia, have reported the number of kids disenrolled for procedural reasons, even though they’re at high risk of becoming uninsured during unwinding. Mississippi’s monthly unwinding reports do not show what number of terminations were children.

Enrollment numbers for August, which will reveal how many children were dropped in July, won’t be posted until early September, Westerfield said. 

So far, about 50,000 Mississippians in total have been dropped from Medicaid during the unwinding, which is set to continue until May 2024. Millions have been dropped nationally, with those numbers predicted to steadily rise.

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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.