This week, our In Focus section reviews changes to Medicaid’s COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) unwinding. People enrolled in the Medicaid program have been continuously enrolled for almost three years, but that situation is about to change. In December 2022, Congress passed and the President signed into law a massive compromise bill to fund the government. It includes an important change to Medicaid’s continuous enrollment policy, which has been in effect since the early days of the COVID-19 PHE in March 2020.
Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) in March 2020. This legislation has allowed states to receive a 6.2 percentage point increase in their federal matching rate for Medicaid. As a condition for receiving the enhanced funding, states have been prohibited from disenrolling individuals who were otherwise determined ineligible for Medicaid. As a result, nearly 20 million more people are now enrolled in the Medicaid program.
The 2023 spending bill severs the link between the COVID-19 PHE declaration, the continuous enrollment requirement, and the higher federal match rate. The new law:
- Ends the Medicaid continuous coverage policy on March 31, 2023, even if the PHE declaration remains in effect. States may begin issuing terminations of ineligible individuals as early as February 1, with an effective date of April 1.
- Phases down the 6.2 percentage point increase in the federal matching rate rather than ending it abruptly at the end of the PHE as required under the FFCRA. Specifically, the increase will drop to 5 percentage points in April−June 2023, 2.5 percentage points in July−September 2023, and 1.5 percentage points in October−December 2023.
- Does not end the PHE or other flexibilities linked to the PHE.
Congress also added new parameters and reporting requirements for states as they resume annual eligibility renewals with coverage cancellation for individuals who no longer qualify. These requirements are in addition to data the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) previously directed states to report. For example:
- States must maintain up-to-date enrollee contact information for individuals who will undergo an eligibility redetermination.
- States cannot disenroll individuals based only on returned mail.
- Prior to disenrolling an individual, the state must make a “good faith effort” to contact the person using more than one communication mode.
- States must submit to CMS “on a timely basis” a report explaining their eligibility redetermination activities.
- States must submit data related to individuals whose eligibility information was transferred between Medicaid and the Marketplace, with some exceptions for states that have integrated Medicaid and Marketplace eligibility systems and those that use the Federally Facilitated Marketplace.
Beyond the “Delinking”
The new law includes other important eligibility-related policies that may affect state and stakeholder planning for what is often referred to as the “unwinding” of continuous enrollment. Notably, the state Medicaid and CHIP programs will now be required to provide 12 months of continuous coverage for children. A total of 24 states already have adopted the 12-month continuous eligibility option for all children enrolled in Medicaid. While the new requirement will not take effect until January 1, 2024, additional states could adopt this option as they resume normal eligibility operations.
In addition, the new law makes permanent the option for states to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage to 12 months, up from 60 days. The one-year postpartum coverage option initially was approved in the American Rescue Plan but for a limited period of five years. Making the option permanent provides more certainty for states. Nearly two-thirds of states have already implemented or are planning to implement the 12-month postpartum coverage extension.
What Happens Next?
The definitive end date for the continuous enrollment policy sets in motion certain federal and state actions and the process for unwinding. On January 5, 2023, CMS published its first guidance to states on processes related to the new unwinding date. The agency is developing additional guidance and will use other communication tools to provide states with greater clarity on the new statutory reporting, matching rate, and federal agency expectations and oversight.
State plans: All states must submit unwinding plans to CMS by February 15; however, February 1 is the deadline for states that intend to begin renewals in February. These proposals must provide details regarding unwinding strategies, the timeline for starting enrollee renewals, and the pace of ongoing renewal processes. The specific end date for the continuous enrollment policy is driving more states to review and finalize their initiatives and engage with stakeholders.
Impact on health plans and providers: The unwinding process will create important decision points and considerations for Medicaid health plans and providers that have members and patients whom the unwinding process may affect in the next 12-18 months. The law’s requirements reinforce the imperative for states, Medicaid health plans, providers, and other partners to renew efforts to confirm enrollee contact information. The unwinding all will create new considerations for Medicaid health plans with respect to enrollee support, case mix, and rate setting issues.
State budgets and legislation: Many states will kick off their legislative sessions this month. The unwinding process—especially the phase-out of higher federal funding—has important implications for state budgets. State legislatures also may address the new continuous eligibility requirements for children and the permanent option for 12 months of postpartum coverage. As a result, Medicaid will likely remain a top priority during upcoming legislative sessions.
Federal oversight and enforcement: The law’s enhanced reporting provision is intended to provide safeguards to ensure eligible individuals remain enrolled in Medicaid. The reporting also focuses on data related to identifying and directing individuals likely to be eligible for the Marketplace program. Although CMS must publicly report these data, the agency has offered no specific timeline for posting the information. Notably CMS has oversight tools and may impose financial penalties on states that are noncompliant with the unwinding requirements.
Forthcoming federal guidance will confirm the parameters for state unwinding actions, CMS’s plans for oversight of state work, and how these efforts affect current Medicaid enrollees. Medicaid partners should closely monitor state level actions, including announcement of state unwinding plans and opportunities for collaboration. Earlier blogs describe the strategies and actions HMA is working with states and partners to undertake as they prepare for this significant change in Medicaid eligibility policies.