Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi opens an information session on Medicaid renewals at the State House Thursday afternoon. Seated left to right are Lindsay Lang, director of HealthSource RI, and Kimberly Merolla-Brito, acting director of the Department of Human Services. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — Directors from three branches of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services spoke with representatives before session Thursday at the State House to calm fears around the prospect of an estimated 25,000 people being kicked off Medicaid statewide over the next year.
“The bottom line is throughout all this, our primary goal is to keep as many people connected to health care as possible,” said Lindsay Lang, director of HealthSource RI.
Other directors present included Kimberly Merolla-Brito, acting director of the Department of Human Services, and Kristin Sousa, the state’s Medicaid program director.
Set to begin April 1, the renewal process refers to what pre-pandemic was an annual review of Medicaid recipients to determine their eligibility status and disenroll anyone whose income and assets disqualify them. Enrollees in the joint federal and state program that helps cover medical costs must meet criteria for limited income and resources. Annual renewals were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic so circumstances for some recipients may have changed.
“This used to be an annual process,” Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi said at the event’s start. “This is a routine process that is important and necessary.”
Among the concerns raised by the representatives was the ongoing staffing shortage in the Department of Human Services. According to a staffing report to the General Assembly in January, there were 659 total staffers, a deficit of 114 job vacancies.
“We have ongoing efforts of recruitment and retention in progress,” Merolla-Brito said, adding that there were 15-20 job offers made over the last week.
When Rep. Edith Ajello, of Providence, asked about the average wait times for customers dialing into the department’s call center, Merolla-Brito’s answer elicited an audible gasp from the gathering.
“About 57 minutes,” Merolla-Brito replied.
Merolla-Brito added that customers were being encouraged to seek help online to keep employees available to process redeterminations.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there were 350,336 Rhode Islanders covered under the program as of October 2022, about a third of the state’s population.
Options for those losing coverage
HealthSource RI Director Lindsay Lang said that those disenrolled from Medicaid would have options.
“There’s a 60-day special enrollment period for those kicked off Medicaid,” she said. “We are able to create a very smooth transition from Medicaid to [HealthSource RI].”
Those earning less than $69,000 a year for a family of four, or $34,000 for an individual (250% above the Federal Poverty Line) will be enrolled in the two-month program. They will have to manually select a plan through HealthSource RI and will be eligible for federal premium tax credits.
Those earning less than about $55,000 for a family of four, or $27,000 for an individual (200% above the Federal Poverty Line) will initially receive the same benefits. They will be automatically enrolled into a designated HealthSource Rhode Island plan.
“That’s one way we’re trying to target assistance to individuals and families who are really at risk of losing their support,” Lang said.
The renewal process will be broken down into 15 groups of about 15,000 to be processed each month. Households without children will be the first to face redetermination. Households with children will begin to be processed in December.
The three executives said that Medicaid recipients should make sure their contact information is accurate so they receive notices on the renewal process.
“The most important step that Medicaid members can take now is to update their contact information,” Merolla-Brito said.
Customers can expect four attempts via different modes of communication including post, text messages, emails, and more.
Once a renewal notice arrives, customers can update their income and other information via the HealthyRhode Portal, HealthyRhode App, or one of the six Department of Human Services offices across the state: Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Providence, Warwick, Wakefield, and Newport. They can also visit the HealthSource RI walk-in center in East Providence.
Information can also be mailed to P.O. Box 8709, Cranston, RI 02920 or submitted at the Department of Human Services Scan Center, 1 Reservoir Ave., Providence.
The departments are also partnering with multiple community agencies, such as United Way of Rhode Island, to get the word out about the upcoming renewal cycle.
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