Millions of Americans are at risk of losing their health care coverage, including hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents, should they fail to contact the state to verify their income status and address for a process known as Medicaid redetermination.
Half of Illinois children rely on Medicaid for their health insurance coverage, said Theresa Eagleson, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
During the pandemic, the number of low-income and disabled people who received government-backed health care grew in Illinois, and across the country, because at the height of COVID Congress made it illegal for states to kick anyone off Medicaid.
Those who say it is a matter of fairness and economizing passed the change in federal law. Opponents say it puts vulnerable people at risk, means Medicaid recipients could soon lose that coverage.
States must now return to the pre-pandemic method of making sure that those who receive Medicaid still qualify for it.
“Many states rushed to push their residents off a cliff from their Medicaid rolls, but I want to be clear, here in Illinois there will be no coverage cliff,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday. “Redeterminations and renewals in Illinois are happening through a deliberate and a careful process on a rolling basis over the coming year.”
That’s starting now, with “Ready to Renew” notices set to arrive in Illinois residents’ mailboxes this week.
According to the state, more than 113,600 Illinois cases are up for renewal by June, though about half of that the state said it can auto-renew through its own systems.
The other half must have their paperwork in by June 1.
“This is a critical time because the first notices are going out to a group of customers this week. Please keep a close eye … on their mailboxes. And if they need to provide us with more information to determine their eligibility to complete and submit their forms right away,” Eagelson said. “Everyone’s due date is different over the next 14 months, so we encourage customers to double check your renewal month at ABE.Illinois.gov.”
Only .gov websites are legitimate. (In this case, Abe.Illinois.gov is a play on President Abe Lincoln, but “Abe” is also an acronym that stands for Application for Benefits Eligibility.)
The envelop that Medicaid customers will get has a state of Illinois return address and black writing in the lower right corner with a headline “Important Information About Your Coverage” in all capital letters. The envelop window shows a portion of a letter with the phrase “Ready to Renew” also in all capital letters,
“We want to make sure that people know what they’re looking for and that they don’t get fooled by a potential scam,” Eagleson said.
Anyone who has moved from a previous address may not get that letter — a major reason why even those who qualify for Medicaid lose their coverage. You cannot get that reminder notice in the mail, if the state doesn’t know where to send it.
Eagleson and Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou encourage anyone on Medicaid to visit the Abe.Illinois.gov website to both check when their renewal is up, and to make sure the state has up-to-date contact information including a home address if possible.
In addition to snail mail and the website, recipients can visit Illinois Department of Human Services locations, or call 1-800-843-6154
Hou promises a once-broken phone system has been fixed.
“We’ve gone from seven to eight hours waiting to talk to an operator to now less than eight minutes on average,” Hou said. “For many people this will be the first time going through this redetermination process. So we understand it’s a new process. That is why we’ve created different avenues to meet people where they are.”
The most important thing: For anyone who receives Medicaid to make sure the state has current contact information.
Toni Bush knows first-hand how vital Medicaid can be.
“I was a high school student raising a child at the age of 16 years old and receiving Medicaid,” Bush said. “Receiving assistance helped me raise my daughter, complete my high school and college education and put me on track to become the CEO of PCC.”
PCC Community Wellness Center is a federally qualified health center that offers primary, dental and behavioral health care, and that treats many patients who use Mediciaid. It has locations throughout Chicago, primarily on the west side, including at CPS schools like Steinmetz College Prep, which hosted a press conference Monday to get the word out about the Medicaid renewal deadlines.
Chicago Public Schools is also involved.
CPS’ chief health officer, Dr. Sofia Adawy Akintunde, said about 70% of CPS children rely on Medicaid.Families can reach out to the district’s student health and wellness family benefits team for help renewing.
Even those who believe they are above the income threshold or otherwise may not longer qualify for Medicaid are encouraged to fill out the renewal form, make sure the state has a current address, and contact the state about other insurance options.
“Anyone who is no longer eligible for Medicaid coverage will be notified and will receive information in how to enroll in alternative and affordable coverage,” Pritzker said.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky