More than 300,000 Oklahomans have been cut off from Medicaid as the relaxation nears its end

Oklahoma’s health authority is nearing the end of a nine-month period in which it removed hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans from Medicaid due to the end of federal pandemic health care coverage.

The state agency that oversees Oklahomas Medicaid program, known as SoonerCare, will complete its Medicaid dismantling process by Dec. 31.

The process requires all states to continue normal Medicaid enrollment and eligibility procedures, ensuring that only those residents who are eligible receive benefits. It comes after federal health care protections were in place for about three years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal public health emergency prevented states from removing people from Medicaid rolls even if they were no longer eligible for health benefits meant for low-income residents. Under normal circumstances, the health care authority regularly removes Medicaid recipients who are no longer eligible due to income or other reasons.

More than 307,000 Oklahomans had been cut off from the health care benefits program as of November 30. The agency estimates that 29,769 Oklahomans will be removed in December.

To qualify for Medicaid, an individual must earn less than $20,124 a year and a family of four must earn less than $41,400.

About 173,183 Oklahomans lost Medicaid coverage because of the denial process, in which a person did not fill out the necessary paperwork to maintain coverage, said Emily Long, a spokeswoman for the health authority.

Oklahoma offers real-time Medicaid application processing. If someone finds out they’ve lost coverage, they can reapply and know immediately if they’re still eligible for Medicaid and start health care coverage the same day, Long said.

The health care authority also shortens the insurance coverage to 90 days. If someone regains coverage, Medicaid covers claims that go back nearly three months, he said.

The Health Alliance for the Uninsured, which helps uninsured people get care at more than 90 free clinics across the state, said the number of patients at those facilities is growing as more people lose Medicaid coverage.

Referrals of people needing health care increased because so many people are missing out, said Jeanean Yanish Jones, the group’s executive director.

The clinics also see people with more serious health problems that can be delayed due to lack of health insurance, he said.

The health care authority built its unwinding process to ensure that the states’ most vulnerable residents, who are no longer eligible for Medicaid, maintain their coverage for as long as possible.

The agency began the dismantling process in May by removing from the application non-subsidized recipients who did not use their Medicaid benefits, people who already had other health insurance and adults without young children.

As the unwinding process drew to a close, the agency began removing chronically ill, young children and Medicaid recipients on medication.

Coming to the end of this nine-month period, we were the most vulnerable and the people using the services the most, Yanish Jones said. This is a really critical part of the decommissioning process because the impact in the first few months was much lower because there were people who may never have made a claim. Some people may not even know they are on SoonerCare

He said he hopes that when people lose coverage, they will take steps to reapply for Medicaid or get health insurance through their employer, the federal marketplace or elsewhere.

Yanish Jones said it typically takes someone about 9 to 12 months to regain health care after losing their Medicaid benefits.

Historically, Oklahoma has been among the worst states for uninsured residents, although the number of uninsured Oklahomans dropped significantly after the state expanded Medicaid in 2021. About 12% of the state’s population, or 463,300 Oklahomans, were uninsured last year. Health policy group according to KFF.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which oversees Medicaid services for the states’ elderly, blind and disabled populations, will continue its dismantling process through March.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and an alliance of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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