For reporters looking for top health policy stories in 2023, look at the impact of the end of the public health emergency on Medicaid enrollment and how it could change the number of uninsured people March 11, experts said during the Public Health Legislation. the new Congress” session at Health Journalism 2023 in St. Louis. Federal action on telehealth and its impact on health equity and rural health care will also be key policy topics to watch throughout the year, they said.
The federal COVID-19 public health emergency, which was declared a pandemic in 2020, is now scheduled to end on May 11 this year, with huge implications for Medicaid, the joint federal and state health insurance plan for low-income adults. on program eligibility. , pregnant women, children and people with disabilities.
“How many people will actually lose their Medicaid coverage” due to the end of the public health emergency, said Timothy McBride, a professor of public health at the University of Washington, during a panel titled “Public Health Legislation in the New Congress.”
“We’re watching it like a hawk … and I encourage journalists to do that.”
McBride was joined by Kara Tenenbaum, director of Strathmore Health Strategy in DC, and Lynn Chilton, vice president of government relations for BJC Healthcare, a St. Louis-based healthcare provider.
During the pandemic, state Medicaid programs received additional funds from the federal government as an incentive to automatically enroll low-income adults and children and those with disabilities in Medicaid. As part of the planned end of the health emergency, states can begin the process of requiring beneficiaries to certify their income status and eligibility for Medicaid coverage starting April 1.
The process of removing people from enrollment would take many months, but it would likely result in 18 million people losing their Medicaid coverage and losing access to health care, according to the Urban Institute.
In Missouri, for example, Medicaid enrollment has increased by 600,000 during the pandemic, and McBride expects hundreds of thousands of people to lose coverage in the coming months. Journalists, he said, should report the impact of this loss of insurance on communities.
“This is going to be a really important issue for providers and hospitals and everybody,” he said.
Removing people from Medicaid will likely affect the uninsured rate, which has fallen to 10.2% at the end of 2021, down from 10.8% in 2019, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In the coming year, federal lawmakers are also likely to consider how to make permanent and some temporary changes to telehealth regulations implemented as part of public health emergencies.
During the pandemic, lawmakers lifted many restrictions on offering and paying for care in patients’ homes, nursing facilities and emergency rooms using Zoom and other video communication technologies. Deregulation of telehealth was particularly helpful in rural communities, where there are fewer health care providers for people to see, and helped close health equity gaps.
Congress passed legislation in late 2022 that extended many of the telehealth regulations until 2024, but they are still set to sunset two years later. Chilton said these are policies many health care providers would like to see made permanent.
“I hope one of the lessons learned from the pandemic is the promise of telehealth,” he said.
For reporters looking for additional resources and experts to call on to write about Medicaid, health insurance, and telehealth, check out AHCJ’s top topic pages on health care reform and health IT.