© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Need to renew your Medicaid enrollment in Missouri? Here's a guide to navigating the process

Christa Swillum holds a letter from the Missouri Department of Social Services. It has taken her months to receive benefits.
Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
Christa Swillum holds a letter from the Missouri Department of Social Services. It has taken her months to receive benefits.

Over 1 million Missourians on Medicaid will have their eligibility checked between now and next May. Many have never undergone the process before, and hundreds of thousands are project to lose coverage — mostly because of paperwork problems.

Missouri has begun checking the eligibility of everyone on its Medicaid rolls — a review process that was paused for three years because of pandemic-era federal protections.

Many advocates hope continuing to get the word out about how to navigate what is, for many, an unfamiliar process, will help those who are eligible retain coverage.

About one-quarter of the state’s population was enrolled in Medicaid as of June, the government health insurance program for low-income residents, called MO HealthNet in Missouri.

In June, the state had 1.5 million Medicaid enrollees on its books, up from around 900,000 in March 2020 — in part because Missouri implemented voter-approved Medicaid expansion for low-income adults in late 2021 and in part because of the federal rules providing continuous coverage.

Hundreds of thousands are projected to lose coverage in the state. Nationally, more than 3.7 million enrollees already have been stripped from the rolls.

“A lot of people got Medicaid during the public health emergency during COVID that had never had it before, so they’ve never had to go through the annual renewal process,” said Brandi Linder, community health coordinator at Missouri Ozarks Community Health, a federally-qualified health center that assists with Medicaid renewals.

Linder said the focus has been ensuring that those who are new to the renewal process understand the stakes: “That if they don’t do it, they could possibly lose their coverage.”

Here are some of the things advocates and state officials want participants to know.

1. Medicaid renewal month is typically the anniversary month of first enrollment.

Missouri’s process of evaluating the eligibility of each person on its caseload will unfold over one year — the state began in June and will end with those due in May 2024.

Participants can view their renewal date on the Department of Social Services’ new online portal, but need a smartphone and an active email address to sign up for the required multi-factor authentication.

2. Medicaid participants should update their contact information with the state, especially mailing addresses.

The social services department “strongly encourages” all participants to do the following to “ensure they maintain coverage for anyone in their family who is eligible,” said spokesperson Caitlin Whaley:

  • keep their address up to date — notifying the state if they’ve moved in the last three years;
  • check mail regularly;
  • and/or verify renewal date in the Family Support Division Benefit Portal.

Participants can update their contact info online, in-person or by phone.

Medicaid participants can update their contact info online, in-person or by phone.
Missouri Department of Social Services
Medicaid participants can update their contact info online, in-person or by phone.

3. Medicaid participants will likely need to return paperwork to the state.

In the first month of renewals, the agency renewed around one-third of those evaluated without needing to contact the participant for information, using existing data. Even those renewed in this streamlined way should get a letter from the state informing them they were renewed: Everyone in their renewal month should expect a letter.

The majority in the first group of renewals, though, needed to respond to paperwork. If the state doesn’t have sufficient data to renew a participant’s coverage, the participant will need to provide additional information.

That paperwork will be sent to the participant by mail and will be a yellow form.

The participant should receive the form 55 days before their annual renewal is due.

The state sends forms already partially completed with information it has about the participant.

The participant should, in addition to filling out any blanks in the form, be sure to do the following, said Geoffrey Oliver, program director of Connecting Kids to Coverage at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, which provides free assistance to low-income children, pregnant women and families with children navigating Medicaid:

  • Review the pre-populated information the state filled out;
  • Cross out anything that is not accurate and correct it;
  • And be sure to sign the document before submitting it.

4. Medicaid participants could benefit from submitting the paperwork, even if they believe they’re no longer eligible.

Being removed from Medicaid due to being found ineligible — rather than simply not returning the form — could help a participant access other insurance, Oliver said.

That’s because the state is supposed to help facilitate a participant’s transition into subsidized coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, if they find them ineligible for Medicaid.

The Department of Social Services is using yellow forms for annual eligibility review submissions.
Missouri Department of Social Services
The Department of Social Services is using yellow forms for annual eligibility review submissions.

“Even if you’re not eligible, it’s to your benefit to get that eligibility denial versus a procedural denial,” Oliver said, “because it’ll get you more assistance with regards to enrolling in a marketplace plan, if that’s the best option for you.”

Additionally, he said, even if a parent is no longer eligible, children are often still eligible due to higher Medicaid income limits for kids.

Adults could fall into one of the groups qualifying for Medicaid at a higher income level, too, such as Medicaid for pregnant women or postpartum coverage. Missouri recently extended the duration of postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year.

Participants can submit the renewal information by mail to the address shown on the letter, in person to a local Resource Center, online through the portal or by phone.

5. If there are paperwork issues, eligible participants could lose Medicaid coverage.

Medicaid Resources

The Department of Social Services’ Family Support Division determines eligibility for MO HealthNet.

For questions not answered on the state’s website, participants can go to a local resource center, call 855-373-4636 or connect through the chat on the agency’s website.

The average call wait time in April for the Medicaid call center, the most recent month for which data is available, was 44 minutes.

Cover Missouri and Show Me Coverage have search functions to help enrollees find free support, including from community health centers and nonprofit organizations. Those groups receive federal funding to help people apply for and renew Medicaid. Staff can also help with navigating the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Missouri Legal Services provides free assistance to low-income and disadvantaged residents, including for public benefits-related issues like Medicaid. They can assist when coverage is lost, as well as help track and assist with renewals.

There are four regional programs:

The state can end coverage for two reasons.

If the participant is found to be ineligible — because their income exceeds the allowed maximum, for instance, they will be deemed ineligible and lose coverage.

A participant can also lose coverage for what are called “procedural” reasons, meaning the state couldn’t determine the participant’s eligibility, generally due to paperwork issues.

For instance, a participant could be procedurally disenrolled if they did not return the required paperwork, or did not receive the paperwork — perhaps because of a change in address or lack of a stable address.

Oliver said his office has met with two families unsure whether they received the initial notice by mail and were then disenrolled — “The first they heard about it was the denial” letter, he said.

For another family, the notice was sent to the wrong address because the head of household changed.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri helped the families submit the paperwork to get coverage reinstated, Oliver said.

In June, the first month of reviews, more than 32,000 Missourians – half of them children – lost Medicaid coverage.

As is the case nationally, Missouri has, so far, had a high rate of terminations due to paperwork issues — 72% of terminations in June were due to procedural reasons. That means around 23,000 Missourians disenrolled were not directly found ineligible but their eligibility couldn’t be determined. (According to the health policy nonprofit KFF, that places Missouri around average nationally.)

6. But participants can regain Medicaid coverage if they act within 90 days of termination.

If a participant loses Medicaid but believes they are still eligible, they should act quickly, Oliver said.

Enrollees have 90 days after the termination to submit required paperwork for reconsideration — rather than filling out an entirely new application for Medicaid. If they’re found eligible, they can get coverage reinstated.

It’s “very important to turn that paperwork in as soon as possible,” Oliver said. “It’s not too late.”

Medicaid will retroactively cover care during that lapse, Whaley said.

Submitting the information within those 90 days allows participants to stay on the same health plan — retaining the same doctors, for instance. After the 90 days have passed, the participant needs to start from scratch and reapply for Medicaid.

7. The Medicaid participant should be covered until they receive official notice of continued coverage or disenrollment.

If a participant has submitted paperwork by the deadline but not yet heard back from the state with a decision, they may wonder whether they still have coverage.

In the first month of renewals, around 34,000 determinations remained pending, or 29% of those who were due for renewal. Whaley said at least some of those pending were renewal forms submitted near the deadline which the agency was still processing.

Even if the deadline has passed and a participant hasn’t heard back with a determination, they should still have coverage.

“Coverage will remain in effect” until the determination is made, Whaley said.

They can also check their eligibility on the portal, she said.

8. Those who lose Medicaid coverage may be eligible for plans through the Affordable Care Act.

States are supposed to help those who lose Medicaid due to ineligibility transition to the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, by transferring their information over.

There is a special enrollment period for those who lose Medicaid which lasts from March 31, 2023 to July 31, 2024.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.

If you’re a Missourian interested in speaking to a reporter about your experience with the Medicaid renewal process, please contact cbates@missouriindependent.com.

Clara Bates covers social services and poverty for The Missouri Independent. She previously wrote for the Nevada Current, where she reported on labor violations in casinos, hurdles facing applicants for unemployment benefits and lax oversight of the funeral industry. She also wrote about vocational education for Democracy Journal. Bates is a graduate of Harvard College and is a Report for America corps member.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.