Medicaid-Rolls Purged: Lawyers Say Thousands Wrongly Lost Medicaid
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The number of eligible people who were purged from Pennsylvania's Medicaid rolls amid Gov. Tom Corbett's administration crackdown aimed at welfare waste is possibly many thousands higher than state officials told lawmakers earlier this week, Philadelphia-based lawyers for the poor told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Citing figures from the Department of Public Welfare, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia said that nearly half the people, or 7,331, who responded to a letter sent by the agency in the fall have since re- enrolled in Medicaid. Just 16,000 people actually responded to the approximately 100,000 letters sent by the department, raising the possibility that many thousands more wrongly lost Medicaid or even re-enrolled on their own without responding to the letter, Community Legal Services lawyer Richard Weishaupt said.
“So what happened to the other 80,000? We don't know,” Weishaupt said. “It would be very interesting for DPW to look at those 80,000 and figure out what happened to them. I think a reasonable estimate until proven otherwise is that ... probably at least half of them should be, or were, put back on” Medicaid.
On Tuesday, the department's acting secretary, Bev Mackereth, told the Senate Appropriations Committee that 3 percent out of about 100,000 who had been sent letters were actually eligible for Medicaid. A department spokeswoman said Thursday that it stands behind Mackereth's statement, but has been unable to explain how the agency had determined that the other 97,000 were not eligible.
The department sent the letters in late October and early November to settle claims that families were improperly purged from the health insurance program for the poor and disabled amid an effort to sort through a backlog of regular case reviews. The letters allowed them to ask the department to reconsider their eligibility and were aimed at about 100,000 families that had had their Medicaid cases closed for technical reasons, such as a failure to provide information that proved they remained eligible.
Community Legal Services said many were cut off because of “bureaucratic red tape like lost or unprocessed paperwork.” As part of the settlement, the department is furnishing Community Legal
Services with reports on the matter.
The department began its review of cases in August 2011, about eight months after Corbett, a Republican, took office. Pennsylvania's Medicaid rolls began dropping, alarming advocates for the poor.
Federal officials who looked into it suggested that some people were kicked off Medicaid before caseworkers actually sorted through the information that they had submitted to verify their eligibility and keep the medical benefit. Weishaupt said overloaded caseworkers tried to rush through the backlog of six-month eligibility reviews, which had piled up without enough staff to carry them out.
“It was done in a very hurried way and it was just like a perfect storm,” Weishaupt said.
Many people – about 48,000 – immediately reenrolled in Medicaid after their cases were closed by late 2011, Community Legal Services said.
Of the 7,331 who responded to the letters, 3,749 people were re-enrolled in Medicaid by the department, Community Legal Services said. Another 3,582 people had already reapplied and were reenrolled in Medicaid even before they responded to the letter, the nonprofit group said.
Another mystery is what happened to all the children who dropped off Medicaid rolls. State figures show there are still 88,000 fewer children on Medicaid since August 2011, but 33,000 more adults.
Mackereth did not offer an answer Tuesday about what happened to the children, but she defended her agency’s efforts to ensure that anybody who was still eligible for Medicaid after being bumped off knew to reapply.
Nearly 2.2 million Pennsylvanians, or one in six, are currently on Medicaid, a 48- year-old state-federal program. That includes about one-third of the state's children and about two-thirds of the elderly in nursing homes.