15 million in the US to be kicked off of public health benefits

Millions are to lose Medicaid/CHIP benefits in the coming months as pre-pandemic income eligibility restrictions have returned

April 05, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
From a demonstration in front on the US Capitol building in 2017 (Photo: American Life League)

As US-based news is inundated with coverage surrounding the spectacle of former president Donald Trump’s arraignment, 15 million people are being quietly phased out of receiving Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits, beginning April 1 and going through May and July.

As the Joe Biden administration will end the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration on May 11, starting this past weekend states have already begun to kick people off of Medicaid and CHIP. These states are all Republican Party-controlled: Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.

Medicaid and CHIP are the limited government health insurance programs that are offered within the context of the United States’ hyper-privatized healthcare system. These programs are only available for those who meet (extremely low) income requirements. As an example, in the state of Texas, parents within a family of three must receive below USD 3684.8 in annual income to be eligible for Medicaid. Childless adults in Texas can never qualify for Medicaid, and the same is true in other states.

However, this changed during the height of the pandemic. In March 2020, Trump signed the Families First Act, which increased federal funds for Medicaid for states on two conditions: states would not make Medicaid eligibility more strict and would not unenroll anyone receiving Medicaid at the time. This meant that even if Medicaid recipients began to exceed the income threshold after being enrolled, they would not be kicked off of the program. 

In choosing to end the public health emergency, Biden is doing away with this Trump-era measure. As a result, his own administration estimates that 8.2 million people will lose their eligibility. 6.8 million more will lose coverage due to “administrative churning” or simple bureaucratic complications, such as failing to re-enroll, as the COVID-19 state of emergency eliminated the necessity of doing so.

Young people and people of color will be disproportionately impacted. 5.3 million children and 4.7 million young adults aged 18-34 will lose their public healthcare coverage. Almost one third of the 15 million losing coverage are Latino, and 15 percent are Black. For comparison, one in five people in the US is Latino and 14.2 percent are Black.

Alongside Medicaid/CHIP, other health emergency benefits will also be eliminated after May 11, such as free at-home testing and COVID-19 treatment for Medicaid/Medicare recipients. Extra food assistance already ended in 32 states after February, affecting 30 million people in what some called a “hunger cliff”.

Many in the US government have been clamoring to end pandemic-era protections for months now. These include GOP lawmakers who used Biden’s comments about the pandemic being “over” back in September to argue against approving more relief money. “It also begs the question as to why [Biden is approving] other pandemic-related measures, like student-loan forgiveness, cancellations,” said South Dakota Senator John Thune. 25 Republican governors wrote Biden to call for an end to emergency Medicaid expansion back in December. “It is time we move on from the pandemic and get back to life as normal,” they wrote. In the United States, it is “normal” for 15 million people to lose their right to healthcare.