Beshear says ‘it’s time’ to end U.S. Covid emergency, set May 11, but notes expiring programs; estimated 260,000 to lose Medicaid

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear agreed with President Biden’s decision to end the Covid-19 public health emergency on May 11, a decision that will bring an end to several programs that were put in place to help people during the worst of the pandemic.

“I think it’s time,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference Thursday. “We are in a much different and a much better place with the pandemic. People have the information they need, and everyone has the ability to protect themselves to the best of their ability through a series of steps.”

The governor didn’t specify them, but those steps include getting a Covid-19 vaccination and booster, wearing a high-quality mask in public indoor spaces or avoiding non-essential indoor activities if you are at high risk of getting sick, getting tested before having social contact with others who are at high risk of severe disease, and to wear a mask if you are with them. And, to stay home if you are sick.

Beshear said he didn’t support Kentucky legislators’ decision to end the commonwealth’s Covid-19 state of emergency in March 2022 because it caused Kentuckians to lose money for federal food assistance.

Beshear noted several programs that will end when the national state of emergency ends, including free Covid-19 testing and treatment and the Rental Assistance Program, which he said is already running out of money.

In a detailed explainer about what the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency will mean to health coverage and access, the Kaiser Family Foundation says Covid-19 vaccinations, testing and treatment will continue to be free to all people as long as the supply of federally purchased vaccines last.

But when the federally purchased supplies run out, KFF says there will likely be a co-payment for all testing and treatment for people with insurance. Vaccines must remain free to most people with private and public insurance under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but that rule does not apply to the uninsured or underinsured.

Medicaid unwinding

One pandemic benefit that is ending made it easier for low-income people to sign up for free health care through Medicaid and kept states from kicking them off the program. That will change, as part of an end-of-year omnibus law that requires Medicaid agencies to restart their annual renewal process.  This process has been dubbed “Medicaid unwinding.”

At a Jan. 12 state Senate and House Joint Health Services Committee meeting, Veronica Judy-Cecil, senior deputy commissioner of the state Department for Medicaid Services, gave a snapshot of how many Kentuckians this will affect.

She said the state estimates that of the 1.7 million Kentuckians on Medicaid, 243,368, about 14%, will lose eligibility during the unwinding. Slides presented at Beshear’s Feb. 2 news conference indicated that the estimated number of people impacted by the unwinding has gone up to 260,000.

Of that group, an estimated 85,400 have incomes over 138% of the federal poverty level, the Medicaid limit, and may get a qualified health plan with federal tax credits through Kynect, the state-based marketplace.

“So, we’re going to work really hard to make sure that people understand if you’re losing your Medicaid eligibility, but you qualify for a QHP on the state-based exchange, and potentially advanced premium tax credits to make it affordable, then you can find coverage on the exchange. And we’re gonna work really hard to make sure people understand that,” Judy-Cecil said.

“Our focus is going to be on ensuring no unnecessary administrative terminations. And what that means is . . . if we need information from them, we want to make sure they get it to us, we want to verify that they’re no longer eligible. We don’t want somebody who is eligible to drop off because we didn’t get something back. So we’re gonna work really hard to make sure that they’re covered. We’re also gonna work on those folks that [are] no longer eligible and make sure that they get moved to plans that keep them covered.”

Judy-Cecil added that about 80% of Kentuckians on Medicaid can go through an automatic renewal process because they know what their income is and if it is too high.
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