UNITED STATES NEWS

Georgia Medicaid program with work requirement off to slow start even as thousands lose coverage

Aug 18, 2023, 10:17 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed paperwork creating a new state health plan for low-income residents to much fanfare at the state Capitol three years ago.

But public health experts and advocates say since it launched on July 1, state officials appear to be doing little to promote or enroll people in the nation’s only Medicaid program that makes recipients meet a work requirement.

The Georgia Department of Community Health, which has projected up to 100,000 people could eventually benefit from Georgia Pathways to Coverage, had approved just 265 applications by early August.

“If we’re talking about directed outreach to the population that would most likely be eligible and interested, I haven’t seen anything,” said Harry Heiman, a health policy professor at Georgia State University.

Heiman and other experts say the program’s slow start reflects fundamental flaws missing from Medicaid expansions in other states, including the extra burden of submitting and verifying work hours. And some critics note it’s happening just as the state, as part of a federally mandated review, is kicking tens of thousands of people off its Medicaid rolls — at least some of whom could be eligible for Pathways.

“We’ve chosen a much more complicated and lengthy process that will take a long time even for the few folks who get coverage,” said Laura Colbert, executive director of the advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future.

The Biden administration has already tried to revoke Georgia’s Medicaid plan once and will be monitoring it, so any missteps could have broader consequences. They could also hamper future efforts by Republicans to make Medicaid eligibility dependent on work.

A spokesman for the governor’s office, Garrison Douglas, said enrollment would grow as applications continue to be reviewed.

“While the federal government initiated and dictated a process for re-determining the qualifications of traditional Medicaid recipients, Georgia is the only state in the country simultaneously offering a new pathway to healthcare coverage and opportunity,” he said in a statement.

The state’s department of community health said it was engaging stakeholders, community partners and others to help get the word out about the program. It did not provide details about that effort.

“There’s still some more work that we have to do for Pathways,” Lynnette Rhodes, executive director of DCH’s Medical Assistance Plans division, said at a meeting this month. “But overall…the program is working.”

The state launched Pathways just as it began a review of Medicaid eligibility following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Federal law prohibited states from removing people from Medicaid during the three-year emergency.

Georgia has already cut more than 170,000 adults and kids from Medicaid and is expected to remove thousands more as the yearlong review of all 2.7 million Medicaid recipients in the state continues. Nationwide, more than a million people have been dropped from Medicaid, most for failing to fill out paperwork.

The department of community health said it delayed the reevaluations of 160,000 people who were no longer eligible for traditional Medicaid but could qualify for Pathways to help them try to maintain health coverage. It was not immediately clear whether the state reached out to those people and helped guide them to apply for Pathways.

“From what we have seen thus far, they are not doing anything affirmatively to get these people enrolled in Pathways,” said Cynthia Gibson, an attorney with the Georgia Legal Services Program who helps people obtain Medicaid coverage.

In contrast, Oklahoma officials implementing a voter-approved expansion of Medicaid in 2021 moved people in existing state insurance programs directly into the expansion pool without the need for a new application, according to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. Nearly 100,000 people were enrolled in the expanded program within days of its launch.

“States have a lot of tools that they can use to help make this process go more smoothly,” said Lucy Dagneau, an advocate for Medicaid expansion with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Oklahoma and 39 other states have expanded Medicaid eligibility to nearly all adults with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, $20,120 annually for a single person and $41,400 for a family of four. None of those states require recipients to work in order to qualify.

That broader Medicaid expansion was a key part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in 2010, but many Republican governors, including Kemp, rejected it. In addition to imposing a work requirement, Pathways limits coverage to able-bodied adults earning up to 100% of the poverty line — $14,580 for a single person or $30,000 for a family of four.

Kemp has argued full expansion would cost too much money. State officials and supporters of Pathways say the work requirement will also help transition Medicaid recipients to better, private health insurance, and working, studying or volunteering leads to improved health.

“I’m excited we’re moving forward in this direction,” said Jason Bearden, president of CareSource Georgia, one of the state’s Medicaid health plans. “This is good progress.”

Critics say many low-income people work informal jobs and have fluctuating hours that will make it hard for them to document the required 80 hours a month of work, volunteer activity, study or vocational rehabilitation. They also blast the lack of an exemption to the work requirement for parents and other caregivers.

For Amanda Lucas, the work requirement is insurmountable right now.

Lucas said she had no idea Pathways started in July, but even if she did, she would not qualify because she has to take care of her 84-year-old father in Warner Robins, a city about 100 miles (160 km) south of Atlanta. He had a stroke and needs her to buy groceries, make food, pick up prescriptions, pay bills and manage myriad other tasks, she said.

With risk factors for skin cancer, she worries about living without health insurance.

“I try to keep an eye on my own moles,” she said. “I’m increasingly anxious because I’m 46.”

United States News

Associated Press

The Latest | Israeli strikes in Rafah kill at least 5 as ship comes under attack in the Gulf of Aden

Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli airstrikes on the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip killed at least five people. More than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge in Rafah, where Israel has conducted near-daily raids as it prepares for an offensive in the city. In central Gaza, four […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Colleges nationwide turn to police to quell pro-Palestine protests as commencement ceremonies near

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — With graduations looming, student protesters doubled down early Thursday on their discontent of the Israel-Hamas war on campuses across the country as universities, including ones in California and Texas, have become quick to call in the police to end the demonstrations and make arrests. While grappling with growing protests from coast […]

4 hours ago

Anti-Abortion activists rally outside the Supreme Court, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Washington. ...

Associated Press

Supreme Court justices unconvinced state abortion bans conflict with federal health care law

Conservative Supreme Court justices are skeptical that state abortion bans enacted after the overturning of Roe v. Wade violate federal law.

9 hours ago

Lisa Pisano looks at photos of her dog after her surgeries at NYU Langone Health in New York on Mon...

Associated Press

New Jersey woman becomes second patient to receive kidney from gene-edited pig

A New Jersey woman who was near death received a transplanted pig kidney that stabilized her failing heart.

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Instagram fraudster ‘Jay Mazini’ has been sentenced for his crypto scheme that preyed on Muslims

NEW YORK (AP) — The former Instagram influencer known as “ swindled millions of dollars from online followers and a network of Muslims during the pandemic was sentenced to seven years in prison on Wednesday, prosecutors said. Jebara Igbara, 28, of New Jersey, had pleaded guilty to fraud charges, admitting that he created a Ponzi […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Connecticut Senate passes wide-ranging bill to regulate AI. But its fate remains uncertain

HARTFORD (AP) — The Connecticut Senate pressed ahead Wednesday with one of the first major legislative proposals in the U.S. to reign in bias in artificial intelligence decision-making and protect people from harm, including manufactured videos or deepfakes. The vote was held despite concerns the bill might stifle innovation, become a burden for small businesses […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Georgia Medicaid program with work requirement off to slow start even as thousands lose coverage