Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders waits to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden on February 7, 2023 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

(Photo: Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)

Wyden Says GOP Medicaid Purge Puts 'Politics Before Children's Health'

New government data indicates that just nine Republican-led states are responsible for 60% of Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program disenrollments since April.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden ripped GOP governors on Monday for endangering the well-being of kids in their states for political purposes as they gut their Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program rolls at an alarming clip, sparking pushback from the Biden administration and healthcare advocates.

"Unfortunately, it's clear that too many Republican governors have chosen to put politics before children's health," Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released new data showing that a small handful of GOP-led states account for the majority of Medicaid and CHIP disenrollments since April.

That month, the federal government began allowing states to resume eligibility checks and disenrollments that were paused during the Covid-19 pandemic. The health policy nonprofit KFF has estimated based on available data that 71% of those kicked off Medicaid across the U.S. since April have lost coverage for procedural reasons, such as a paperwork error.

Wyden said it's "encouraging" that HHS is giving governors "the opportunity to do right by the families they cover" and pledged to work with President Joe Biden's administration to "ensure everything possible is done to protect coverage for families walking an economic tightrope."

According to the HHS analysis, nine Republican-led states are responsible for roughly 60% of Medicaid and CHIP disenrollments this year: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. Additionally, HHS said the 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act "have disenrolled more children than those that have expanded combined."

"States must take bold action to prevent a large increase in their uninsured child population. Three million losing Medicaid and counting is a terrible way to ring in the new year."

In letters to the nine states' GOP governors, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra urged them to "ensure that no child in your state who still meets eligibility criteria for Medicaid or CHIP loses their health coverage due to 'red tape' or other avoidable reasons as all states 'unwind' from the Medicaid continuous enrollment provision that was in place during much of the Covid-19 public health emergency."

"HHS takes its oversight and monitoring role during the renewals process extremely seriously," Becerra added, "and will not hesitate to take action to ensure states' compliance with federal Medicaid requirements."

Becerra suggested a few strategies aimed at improving the states' often byzantine renewal processes, including boosting auto-renewals and engaging in more active outreach efforts to make sure families know how to keep their coverage.

At least one state leader, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, signaled she has no intention of acting on Becerra's recommendations.

"The failing Biden admin sent letters to GOP-led states in a politically motivated PR stunt, accusing us of restricting Medicaid access. That's false," Sanders, who served as former President Donald Trump's press secretary, wrote on social media in response to Becerra's letter. "Arkansas is in compliance with state and federal law, while Biden plays politics at Christmas."

Arkansas has worked aggressively to curb its Medicaid rolls this year, stripping more than 427,000 people of coverage in just six months. In September alone, more than 21,000 people were removed from the program for not returning their enrollment paperwork, according to state data.

The nationwide Medicaid purge that began in April has been described as "the largest concentration of health insurance loss in American history," and both Republican governors and the Biden administration have faced criticism for failing to prevent disaster.

Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families (CCF) estimates that, as of Monday, more than 3 million children have been disenrolled from Medicaid since eligibility checks resumed in the spring.

"In 2022, 3.9 million children were uninsured, so even if the majority of children losing Medicaid have other sources of coverage, the number of uninsured children is rising sharply," CCF executive director Joan Alker wrote in a blog post on Monday. "States must take bold action to prevent a large increase in their uninsured child population. Three million losing Medicaid and counting is a terrible way to ring in the new year."

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