Alaska health department changes Medicaid renewal process to keep thousands covered

Application for Medicaid for Alaska Residents. (Rachel Cassandra/Alaska Public Media)

Following a three-year pause on dropping Alaskans from Medicaid during the COVID pandemic, the state health department is now changing how it processes renewals, to keep more people enrolled.

The goal is to reduce the number of people who are disenrolled for procedural, or paperwork, reasons, after 37% of Alaska’s Medicaid recipients were procedurally disenrolled in the first four months following the COVID pause. Many of those disenrolled are actually still eligible for Medicaid but require more paperwork. Sometimes that’s because people enrolled don’t have an updated address on file and haven’t received the paperwork.

Medicaid is federal- and state-funded health insurance for Americans with lower incomes and disabilities, and is administered by the state. It serves about a third of Alaska residents.

The department will process Medicaid renewals by individual instead of by family unit, said Deb Etheridge, director of the state Division of Public Assistance. That means even if an entire family’s coverage can’t be automatically renewed, it could be automatically renewed for some individual family members. Medicaid disenrollments are paused again, temporarily, so the department can go back through paperwork for families who’ve already been disenrolled, Etheridge said.

“We needed to really look deeper to see if a member in that household could have remained eligible, without further paperwork,” she said.

In the past three weeks, the department has re-enrolled more than 400 children and 200 adults who were previously disenrolled, Etheridge said. The pause will continue until they can comb through the paperwork from all of the families that were disenrolled since the processing started in May, she said.

Soon, Etheridge said, the department will get more-detailed demographic data about who is being procedurally disenrolled, which may change the ways they reach out to people who need to renew.

“We’re going to be able to be more strategic and how we do some of our outreach and really see if there’s areas of the state that need additional support,” Etheridge said.

The department has reopened their Bethel office so people can renew or apply in person, and in November, they’re hoping to reopen more of their offices around the state, which were closed due to COVID, for in-person renewal applications.

“We’re being diligent and trying to make sure that individuals remain on Medicaid if they’re otherwise eligible,” Ethridge said. “And please, open your mail. We are going to change the envelope so it’s a little bit brighter, and so it stands out.”

The department is also updating information for Alaskans’ Medicaid renewal status on the Health Information Exchange, a system health care providers can access to find out if their patients have been renewed or disenrolled. Ethridge said the department is encouraging health care providers to access Medicaid renewal information there and talk with their patients about it.

Those enrolled in Medicaid can update their address through the department’s online form or call 833-441-1870. Ethridge said the hotline has wait times of only a few minutes.

RELATED: Thousands of Alaskans may lose their Medicaid benefits this year, but not because they don’t qualify

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated only the federal government funds Medicaid. Both the federal and state governments fund Medicaid in Alaska.

Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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