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Colorado posts second-highest loss of Medicaid coverage in nation

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Eric Galatas

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(Colorado News Connection) In May, Colorado ranked second in the nation for the percentage of residents dropped from Medicaid health insurance rolls - including 500,000 who were still eligible for the program - according to new analysis by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Bethany Pray, chief legal and policy officer with the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, explained when people with disabilities lose coverage, they lose critical services they rely on every day to live independently, interact with their families, and work.

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"When you have a system that drops people from Medicaid, it does endanger life, it endangers health pretty immediately. And it also puts people at risk of being put into institutions, because they can't operate at home without those services," she said.

Medicaid coverage was automatically renewed during COVID, but that ended in the spring of 2023. Nearly half of enrolled Coloradans have since lost coverage. After a civil rights complaint, Colorado reinstated protections for people with disabilities in April of this year. State officials have defended the terminations, arguing that numbers have returned to normal. They also say many participants didn't return paperwork or now have employer-based insurance.

A legislature-directed audit found that 90 percent of notices sent by state Medicaid offices to beneficiaries contained significant errors.

Pray noted the agency has publicly admitted they don't know what happened to 42 percent of participants - some 300,000 people - who lost coverage.

"We've also seen that clinics and hospitals are reporting seeing many more patients who don't have any form of coverage. So, there's a lot of reason for concern that those people have not gone to employer-based coverage," she explained.

Pray said eligibility staff are putting in long hours to re-enroll people. She believes the state needs to admit there is a problem and review the entire operation, starting with decades-old data systems.

"But there are resource issues and there are IT issues that are not surmountable by people just putting in a lot of hours. This needs state investment, and higher leadership's attention, in order for those problems to be addressed," she continued.