Thousands of Vermonters expected to lose Medicaid following program change

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:51 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Millions of low-income Americans -- including thousands of Vermonters -- could lose their Medicaid benefits at the end of March as a pandemic policy known as “continuous enrollment” ends. Now, state officials are redetermining who is eligible, and some Vermonters will have to make difficult choices.

Grace Beninson has battled diabetes and congestive heart failure for years. “That’s required me to have much more contact with the cardiology department and the kidney department,” said the Brattleboro resident.

Throughout the pandemic, federal rules have required states to keep low-income Vermonters like her on Medicaid even if they don’t meet the criteria. But starting in April, the Department of Health Access is unwinding who is eligible for Medicaid and Dr. Dynasaur as the pandemic rules expire and extra funding runs out.

“The Federal landscape continues to define many aspects of our work. We have been diligently preparing our staff and systems for April, when we may begin to “unwind” from continuous Medicaid coverage for Vermonters. This requires consistent, effective outreach to Vermonters to help them understand how their health coverage may be changing and make every effort to offer them opportunities to remain insured.” - Andrea De La Bruere, Commissioner, Department of Vermont Health Access.

Health care advocates however are alarmed and mobilizing to push back on the changes.

“We had peace of mind for the last two to three years and knowing that if we went to the doctor, we could get the health care we need,” said Keith Brunner with the Vermont Workers Center.

Some 30,000 Vermonters could have their coverage changed. Over the next year, the state will be working to notify people of the changes -- via phone, mail, and email

“Are there people who may drop off and what are we looking at population-wise, what’s their story? And then we navigate those conversations,” said Rep. Lori Houghton, D-Essex Junction.

Medicaid coverage is just one piece of expanded pandemic aid that’s coming to an end. Funding for housing, food, telehealth, and other programs will also run out. Governor Phil Scott says the state is working to avoid Vermonters falling off a benefits cliff, but he adds it’s better to wind down now than during an economic downturn.

“During these times when the economy is booming, there are plenty of jobs available, there’s all kinds of funding -- there’s surplus funding in our budgets -- this is probably as good a time as any to ramp down if there is a good time,” Scott said.

The Medicaid reevaluation process will take over a year. Those who are no longer eligible can still buy plans through the state’s insurance marketplace. And there are still big subsidies that will bring down the cost of that coverage.

But with rent, fuel ‚and food costs going up, Beninson says the loss of pandemic supports should be a wake-up call for state leaders. “I pretty much have to turn to the food pantry to fill in the gaps that I can’t afford myself out of my income. I know this is the case for people all over Vermont,” she said.

Those insurance subsidies are good for MVP and Blue Cross Blue Shield plans until 2025. What happens when they run out in three years has yet to be seen.