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Medicaid 'unwinding' decried as biased against disabled people

Daniel Chang, KFF Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

Jacqueline Saa has a genetic condition that leaves her unable to stand and walk on her own or hold a job. Every weekday for four years, Saa, 43, has relied on a home health aide to help her cook, bathe and dress, go to the doctor, pick up medications, and accomplish other daily tasks.

She received coverage through Florida’s Medicaid program until it abruptly stopped at the end of March, she said.

“Every day the anxiety builds,” said Saa, who lost her home health aide for 11 days, starting April 1, despite being eligible. The state has since restored Saa’s home health aide service, but during the gap she leaned on her mother and her 23- and 15-year-old daughters, while struggling to regain her Medicaid benefits.

“It’s just so much to worry about,” she said. “This is a health care system that’s supposed to help.”

Medicaid’s home and community-based services are designed to help people like Saa, who have disabilities and need help with everyday activities, stay out of a nursing facility. But people are losing benefits with little or no notice, getting bad advice when they call for information, and facing major disruptions in care while they wait for the issue to get sorted out, according to attorneys and advocates who are hearing from patients.

In Colorado, Texas, and Washington, D.C., the National Health Law Program, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income and underserved people, has filed civil rights complaints with two federal agencies alleging discrimination against people with disabilities. The group has not filed a lawsuit in Florida, though its attorneys say they’ve heard of many of the same problems there.

 

Attorneys nationwide say the special needs of disabled people were not prioritized as states began to review eligibility for Medicaid enrollees after a pandemic-era mandate for coverage expired in March 2023.

“Instead of monitoring and ensuring that people with disabilities could make their way through the process, they sort of treated them like everyone else with Medicaid,” said Elizabeth Edwards, a senior attorney for the National Health Law Program. Federal law puts an “obligation on states to make sure people with disabilities don’t get missed.”

At least 21 million people nationwide have been disenrolled from Medicaid since states began eligibility redeterminations in spring 2023, according to a KFF analysis.

The unwinding, as it’s known, is an immense undertaking, Edwards said, and some states did not take extra steps to set up a special telephone line for those with disabilities, for example, so people could renew their coverage or contact a case manager.

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©2024 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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