EDITORIAL: Automate Medicaid enrollment renewal

Jan. 24—While Missouri and other states have a responsibility to ensure those receiving Medicaid benefits are in fact eligible, they should make renewal for those already receiving services as simple, seamless and efficient as possible.

Since March 2020, states largely have been barred from removing enrollees from Medicaid. That order is expiring. Missouri's Department of Social Services will resume conducting Medicaid eligibility renewals April 1, meaning the state may again remove people from its rolls after a three-year pause during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Missouri will conduct renewals over the course of a year. Resuming the process is appropriate, but our state should not return to handling removals in the manner it did before the hiatus.

Medicaid rules require states to attempt to renew participants' eligibility automatically before contacting enrollees to complete forms or documentation themselves. Missouri has historically been anything but diligent in meeting this requirement. More often, our state has required recipients to respond to mailed letters and return required materials before their deadlines. In January 2020, Missouri was one of seven states that processed fewer than 25% of renewals automatically.

It is hard to not impute a motive to that statistic. Before Medicaid expansion, Gov. Mike Parson had touted reduced Medicaid enrollment numbers as the result of his administration's economic policies despite little evidence that fewer people needed the help. In the wake of the Medicaid expansion, Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, and other expansion opponents in the General Assembly engaged in a number of shenanigans to defund and otherwise forestall adding enrollees to Medicaid. Additionally, the Department of Social Services was so slow implementing the expansion that the federal government had to institute a plan to help Missouri deal with "ongoing and persistent" delays processing Medicaid applications that left the state out of compliance with federal standards for nearly a year.

Medicaid participants in Missouri should "keep an eye out for an official letter from the Family Support Division," acting Department of Social Services Director Robert Knodell said in a news release recently, adding: "We cannot stress enough how imperative it is to make sure your address is up to date before April 1."

The information to renew most enrollees is already in the state's computers. In an email to the Missouri Independent, Department of Social Services spokesperson Heather Dolce said the Family Support Division is "currently in development to automate access to electronic data that will be used in the ex-parte process" and that it "should be complete by April 1."

We urge leadership to ensure that happens.

The effect of requiring renewals by mail or forcing people to reenroll is that a significant number of people who continue to be eligible will be wrongly removed, resulting in hardship, delays and medical care not given as needed. That result is the very opposite of what the program is intended to accomplish.