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HHS secretary highlights Medicaid reenrollment

Biden Administration's top healthcare official stresses need for those using government health coverage to reapply this year.

MINNEAPOLIS — If you're using Medicaid health coverage, pay close attention to your mail.

That was the overriding message from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra Thursday when he stopped at the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center to highlight a concerted effort to get 92 million Americans reenrolled in the system.

The emergency rules that delayed renewal eligibility reviews during the pandemic have come to an end. Those who rely on Medicaid, also known as Medical Assistance here in Minnesota, must reapply to keep those benefits.

"Please open your mail. Please read closely what it says. Please respond to that phone call, that text, or that email," Secretary Becerra remarked.

"It could be as simple as responding to that piece of mail with your latest address, with basic personal information that will keep you, your kids, your families insured."

Before the pandemic, 1.2 million Minnesotans were enrolled in Medicaid, but that number grew to 1.5 million as more people became eligible and remained eligible under the emergency rules. They should be looking for envelopes in the mail containing the words "important information enclosed" inside a blue circle.

"Our motto throughout our campaign for renewals is called 'When it’s time to renew, look for the blue.' There’s a big blue circle on the envelope," Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead told reporters.

She said it's not clear if all 1.5 million enrollees will seek to renew medical assistance because some have now obtained jobs with health benefits or are making enough money to qualify for Minnesota Care or to buy a subsidized private plan through the MnSURE marketplace.

"Minnesota has some extra challenges. We have underfunded our IT systems over the decades, so we are one of three states that are doing this entire process on paper."

Harpstead, state lawmakers, county commissioners, and health providers took part in a roundtable event with Becerra before they addressed reporters. Rep. Mohamud Noor of Minneapolis said there's a coordinated effort to make sure people don't fall through the cracks during the reapplication process.

"This is all hands on deck to make sure we provide coverage to Minnesotans, especially the youngest ones and the most vulnerable members in our society," Rep. Noor said.

Most Medicaid recipients enroll through their local county social service offices, which handle the full spectrum of public benefits for lower-income families. Hennepin County Commission Chair Irene Fernando said that counties are working together to process the wave of new applications.

"Minnesotans can rest assured their entire, all of their governments are working on their behalf to ensure they are covered, regardless of where they live. We want them to survive and thrive."

NorthPoint Health and Wellness is already assisting 10 guests with renewal applications each day and is expecting thousands of others to ask for help in the coming year as their current coverage expires.

Dr. Kevin Gilliam, the medical director at NorthPoint, said the pandemic may be fading but the clinic is busier than ever as patients look to catch up on the things they put off during that global health crisis.

"Those things that were on the back burner that are now boiling over need to be brought to the front, and are more apparent," Dr. Gilliam explained.

"Those chronic health conditions people deal with that have gone without much attention, so diabetes, the hypertension, the heart failure, those things are less well controlled."

That's why it's essential for those qualified for medical assistance to keep that coverage going.

"At NorthPoint, we will see people no matter your ability to pay, but we don’t people to incur other expenses and other stressors that lead to worse health outcomes."

Dr. Rahshana Price-Isuk, NorthPoint's clinical services director, said the re-enrollment rush will give physicians another chance to engage with patients.

"I love to educate people on the why, why do you need to you need to fill out this paper, why should you respond," Dr. Price-Isuk told KARE.

"When that coverage lapses you might show up at your pharmacy and all of sudden you’re handed a large bill for your medications, and you hand that back because it’s like, 'I can’t afford that.'  Then diabetes is uncontrolled, blood pressure is uncontrolled. People need that resource."

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