State health departments across the country are facing the difficult task of reviewing Medicaid eligibility for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The Louisiana Department of Health had planned to take advantage of federal guidance that lets states manage the renewals over 12 months and conduct extensive outreach. But the Legislature had a different idea, and ordered the health department to speed up the process. Politico’s Megan Messerly reports on a cautionary tale from Arkansas on how a rushed timeline can lead to eligible people losing their health care. 

But interviews with nearly 30 Medicaid recipients, lawyers, patient advocates, health care providers, insurance agents and state eligibility workers across Arkansas reveal how the state’s compressed timeline is making it harder to keep people like [Twaniesha] Boose from falling through the cracks. Seven in 10 Arkansans who have lost their insurance have been dropped for procedural or administrative reasons, according to state figures. That means the government hasn’t determined someone makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but rather that the person failed to respond to a letter or provide extra information to renew their coverage. In some cases, people are losing coverage because of system glitches.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, in a letter to governors, warned that states could face financial repercussions if they rush the renewal process: 

As you know, states must comply with federal rules regarding how they conduct Medicaid and CHIP renewals, and individuals must be afforded the due process to which they are entitled in order for states to continue to receive enhanced federal funding.  We take our oversight responsibilities extremely seriously, and while we know that states are working hard to meet the federal requirements, we will not hesitate to use the compliance authority provided by Congress, including requesting that states pause procedural terminations under conditions outlined by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, should it be needed.

Federal aid lifts students and families out of poverty
Louisiana’s public schools have seen a recent uptick in the percentage of students who hail from middle- and upper-income families. The percentage of economically disadvantaged children in Louisiana decreased from 71.6% in 2021 to 66.8% in 2022. But it’s unclear whether this means more affluent families are choosing public schools, or whether families who were already in public schools are doing better economically. The Advocate’s Charles Lussier spoke with LBP’s Jan Moller about new research from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber

Moller said he has no doubt some public schools in Baton Rouge draw middle-class families into the public schools — his own children attend two of them. At the same time, though, he argues that federal assistance during the COVID pandemic, including a generous child tax credit and increased food assistance, is likely a key part of the puzzle. The latest U.S. Census data, he noted, shows that more Louisiana families entered the middle class during the pandemic strictly because “the federal government stepped up and provided a stronger safety net for families.”

Congress needs to increase funding for WIC families
The U.S. House advanced legislation on Wednesday that would cut food benefits for 5 million participants of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The $185 million reduction slashes dollars that participants receive to buy fruit and vegetables by as much as 70%. The proposed cuts to the program, which was already underfunded before Covid’s arrival, come as most pandemic benefits have expired and as inflation continues to drive up the price of food. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Zoe Neuberger explains, the last thing Congress should be doing is cutting WIC. 

In recent years, WIC reached only about half of eligible low-income families, causing many families to miss out on the evidence-based benefits WIC provides. But WIC participation is starting to grow, a welcome development. … The increase means more babies, toddlers, and new and expecting parents stand to benefit from WIC-associated improvements in birth outcomes, diet quality, child development, child immunization rates, and access to health care. This is very good news, but it means the program will need more resources to operate. 

Competing bills to lower higher education costs
U.S. senators offered competing ideas on Wednesday for how to tackle the rising costs of a college education. Legislation proposed by Sen. Bill Cassidy and other Republicans is focused on providing more information to borrowers about the details and repayments of loans, and making the borrowing and repayment options less confusing. A Democratic proposal focuses on guaranteeing tuition-free education. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports: 

The GOP cadre has pointed to studies that show colleges routinely present cost and financial aid information in different ways, which  makes it difficult for students to compare the costs of institutions and to accurately estimate other costs of attendance, such as books, housing and meals. … Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – who is unaffiliated with a political party – released legislation that would guarantee tuition-free community college for all students. His bills would also allow students to attend four-year colleges without student loan debt if they hail from single-parent households that earn up to $125,000 a year or from married-parent households that earn up to $250,000 a year. 

Number of the Day
– Louisiana’s national rank for overall child outcomes. (Source: 2023 Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book)