Grant helps kids keep health care coverage

Thrive received a nearly $1.5 million grant to enroll children, families and pregnant individuals in Medicaid and CHIP programs. They'll work with six organizations across the state, covering 64 counties.

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August 11, 2022 - 2:21 PM

Casey Godinez is the rural health coordinator for Thrive Allen County. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

It’s called “The Great Unwinding.”

That’s what the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have termed  a massive reversal of emergency health coverage incentives put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that many of those protections have expired, health experts worry it could result in millions of Americans unintentionally losing their health care coverage. 

Thrive Allen County is one of 36 organizations in the nation to receive a grant to try to make sure that doesn’t happen to children, families and pregnant individuals in Kansas.

“We’re in the middle of this unwinding and there are a lot of people who might fall through the cracks very easily,” Kate Schroeder, Thrive’s director of communications, said.

“That’s why we will offer additional resources and outreach to connect with our most vulnerable community members.”

THRIVE received a three-year “Connecting Kids to Coverage” grant for nearly $1.5 million to enroll children, families and pregnant individuals in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The grant comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

During the COVID pandemic, those programs offered automatic renewal for qualified families. More families also became eligible for Medicaid under the emergency declaration.

Now, 2½ years later, the emergency status is ending and those programs will revert back to their previous rules and regulations. 

That means families who haven’t had to think about enrollment for more than two years will need to re-enroll or risk losing coverage. 

“Especially for those families who have only had coverage for the last couple of years, they don’t know they’re supposed to enroll every year,” Casey Godinez, Thrive’s rural health coordinator, said. 

Not only that, each state is developing its own time frame and approach. Because Kansas is just one of just 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid, its rules are likely to be different than most other states. 

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates between 5.3 million to 14.2 million could lose their Medicaid coverage. 

Of the nation’s 4 million uninsured children, CMS reports about 2.3 million are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. However, many families don’t know they are eligible or struggle with enrollment.

That’s where Thrive comes in.

Thrive will work with six agencies throughout Kansas to offer outreach, education and enrollment services to 64 counties. 

That could include educational efforts at back-to-school events and health fairs, meeting with parents who have recently given birth, and working with local preschools and day care providers. 

ABOUT a year ago, Thrive received a similar grant to work with 10 organizations across the state to help underserved populations find affordable health care coverage. 

That allowed Thrive to hire Godinez to coordinate that program. She works with partner organizations to connect with members of their communities, building relationships and trust.

“So much of it is word of mouth. I’ve seen how quickly those relationships can develop. If you help someone enroll and give them support, they’ll tell people and they’ll come back,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t have access to the internet or they don’t understand what they need to enroll for health insurance. They’re learning they can come to one of our groups, and they can relax knowing someone will help them figure it out.”

She envisions the new grant will operate in a similar way, working with parents to find coverage for children, families and pregnant women. Many pregnant women, for example, don’t know that Medicaid coverage now extends for a year after they give birth.

Previously, coverage ended at 60 days. That’s an important change, Jessica Thompson, Thrive’s deputy director, said.

“Postpartum care is essential for both parent and child. You’re more likely to go to the doctor if you’re experiencing postpartum depression, if you’re having complications, if you had gestational diabetes or even if you have a colicky baby and you just don’t know what to do,” Thompson said. 

She also cited studies that show children who receive regular, preventative care will become healthier adults.

“We have a large percentage of teenage pregnancies and low-birth-weight babies in this area, as well as parents having babies back-to-back. We also have the highest rate in Kansas of smoking among pregnant individuals,” she said. “So it’s really important for those individuals to have access to medical care.”

GODINEZ said anyone who has been receiving services through Medicaid or CHIP should receive a letter about their services. 

For Medicaid, they’ll have just 10 days to respond. 

That’s why it’s vital to make sure your contact information is current, she said. 

If you need to update your personal information, call the Kansas Clearinghouse at 1-800-792-4884.

However, that line is busy and it can sometimes be difficult to get through, she said. She encourages those who are having trouble to call her at Thrive, 620-365-8128, and she can provide alternate contact information. 

She also encourages calls for additional information about enrollment programs. 

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