The Modern Medicaid Program: More Important Now than Ever

Medicaid has been an essential part of American health care for more than 50 years. It helps improve the health and financial security of millions of Americans every day, including more than 2 million veterans. Today’s Medicaid program serves as a crucial safety net — there for when Americans need it. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues to take its devastating toll on the health and lives of Americans across the country, Medicaid is more important now than ever.

Medicaid provides health coverage for individuals and families who live below certain income levels, and is the largest health care program in the country. In the past few months, as unemployment has skyrocketed across the country due to the impact of COVID-19, an estimated 27 million Americans have lost employer-sponsored health insurance due to the COVID-19 crisis, dramatically increasing Medicaid enrollment across most states.

At the national level, the volume of calls to a national consumer hotline for Medicaid and health coverage questions has quadrupled. In Nevada, applications for public benefits programs, including food stamps and Medicaid, increased 10x from 200 per day in February to 2,000 in mid-March.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued guidance on important policies relating to Medicaid since the outbreak of COVID-19. Some of these actions include:

  • updating the disaster preparedness toolkit with strategies to support Medicaid and CHIP operations and enrollees during the COVID-19 crisis
  • granting state and territorial Medicaid agencies a wider range of flexibilities (waiving prior authorization requirements, allowing care to be provided in alternate settings, and more) under section 1135 waivers
  • providing states with additional programmatic flexibilities like expanded use of telehealth and relaxing timeframes for routine administrative processes
  • allowing greater flexibility for states with home and community-based services programs (HCBS)

Medicaid and Medicaid Managed Care programs are offering additional services at low or no cost in order to support patients and help stop the spread of COVID-19. Some of these actions include waiving the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment, covering the cost of telemedicine services, and waiving prescription refill limits to insure patients have access to the medication needed to address their health concerns during this critical time. Programs are also supporting local communities through donations, volunteer programs, and sponsorships.

For example, Blue Shield of California is waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and screening services, as well as for COVID-19 medical treatment for Medi-Cal plan members (California’s Medicaid program). Blue Shield of California also offers $0 copays for telehealth services through Teladoc. Molina Healthcare has waived all COVID-19-related out-of-pocket expenses, including treatment costs, for its Medicaid members nationwide through December 31, 2020. Centene also covers all coronavirus-related testing, screening and treatment for Medicaid members.

As our nation works to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, Medicaid will continue to play an essential role in helping maintain the health and financial security of a growing number of Americans. The modern Medicaid program is there for when Americans need it most – and more important now than ever.

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