Stimulus Update: Will There Be a Surge in COVID Cases as Millions Lose Medicaid Coverage?

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  • The federal government sent enough money to states to keep Medicaid recipients enrolled throughout the pandemic.
  • Millions of those Medicaid recipients are now poised to lose coverage.
  • The loss of coverage will have a negative impact on community health centers.

While politicians debated the need for stimulus aid during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans depended upon the assistance. Here's how the end of the federal government's COVID-19 public health emergency may leave the most vulnerable among us out in the cold.

Nonprofit healthcare providers

Stimulus funds sent during the pandemic allowed U.S. community health centers to serve more low-income and vulnerable patients as COVID-19 moved through their neighborhoods. Many of those helped do not have enough money in the bank to pay for a doctor's visit and may juggle several serious health concerns. Local health centers provided them with a short-term lifeline.

When the federal government's COVID-19 public health emergency officially ends next month, many who depended on community health centers will lose that lifeline.

The loss of continuous coverage

After the U.S. declared a public health emergency in 2020, a modification was made to Medicaid, the program that provides health coverage to eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, older Americans, and people living with disabilities. For the duration of the pandemic, extra federal funding was given to all 50 state governments to provide "continuous coverage" to Medicaid recipients.

Continuous coverage ensured that Medicaid recipients would not lose their health coverage during the pandemic unless they asked for it to be canceled, moved out of state, or died. That means that millions of Americans who would have been kicked off Medicaid remained enrolled, a benefit that allowed them to seek medical care from community healthcare providers.

According to estimates from Kaiser Family Foundation, between 5.3 million and 14.2 million Medicaid enrollees could either lose their coverage or face barriers to re-enrolling in the upcoming weeks. This during a time when Americans are increasingly burdened by medical debt.

Wide ranging impact

A National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) poll found that 85% of community health centers are concerned about how the decrease in Medicaid coverage will impact their services. More than 50% already expect to reduce staff and scale back services.

It's not just Medicaid recipients who visit community health centers. Such medical facilities are also where uninsured Americans visit when the need for medical care is critical. Cutting back on existing programs is sure to have a ripple effect on them as well.

Community health centers will continue to help uninsured people, but without funding from Medicaid or other sources, it will be challenging to make ends meet.

A surge in COVID-19 cases?

It was community healthcare centers that served marginalized communities during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That means that sick people who a doctor might not have otherwise seen had someplace to go and could learn about vaccinations from people they knew and trusted.

Although the COVID-19 health crisis is "officially" over, COVID-19 cases have not been eradicated. It remains to be seen if more cases will pop up as underserved communities nationwide lose access to healthcare.

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