Saturday, November 28, 2020

Parson administration did remove almost 100,000 kids from Medicaid, as Galloway said

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If Your Time is short

  • Missouri Department of Social Services data shows that 96,989 children were dropped from Medicaid from summer 2018 to December 2019.

  • Staff at the Department of Social Services said in a legislative hearing that the state was dropping children from the program when their parents no longer qualified even when the children themselves still did.

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has argued that Gov. Mike Parson can’t be trusted to expand Medicaid, something voters approved in August. She has made it a cornerstone of her campaign for Parson’s seat.

In an Oct. 4 Facebook post, Galloway reinforced her argument by saying the Parson administration “purged 100,000 kids from Medicaid.”

Galloway has repeated this claim in a number of TV ads. In an ad entitled “First Thing,” she said that Parson “cut health care from 100,000 children.” In an ad entitled “Top Priority,” she asserts that Parson “kicked 100,000 kids off their health care.” In an ad entitled “Urgency,” she said that Parson responded to rising health-care costs by “cutting coverage for hundreds of thousands.”

The Parson campaign aggressively refutes this claim, going so far as to threaten legal action.

PolitiFact Missouri obtained a letter sent by Parson campaign attorney Marc Ellinger to stations running one of Galloway’s ads. The letter, dated Oct. 8, asks that the stations stop running the ad and asserts that it “contains demonstrably false claims” and that, among other things, “the Governor has, at no time, taken any policy decision to change eligibility for children on Medicaid or any other health coverage in Missouri.”

During an Oct. 9 debate, we looked into a similar claim made by Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer who said that he lost his Medicaid “alongside 100,000 Missouri children who got kicked off Medicaid.” We found this to be accurate.

But with a major party candidate making a similar claim, we wanted to take a deeper look at the records.

Children dropped from Medicaid

Medicaid is a government program that provides health care to certain low-income people or those with disabilities. Missouri’s Medicaid program is called MO HealthNet, and the Missouri Department of Social Services runs the program. The director of that department is appointed by and reports to the governor.

Data from the Department of Social Services shows that from June 2018, the month Parson took office, to December 2019, the number of children enrolled in the program dropped by 96,989.

Parson and other Republicans have previously said this is a result of fewer people needing the program due to an improving economy.

Experts were skeptical of this explanation.

“It wasn’t the economy,” said Timothy McBride, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and former chair of the state MO HealthNet Oversight Committee. “It was the process they used.”

The state government periodically does checks to make sure those receiving the benefits are still eligible for the program. The eligibility requirements are less stringent for children than for their parents. For a child to qualify, their parents must make less than three times the federal poverty level, but for the whole family, they must simply make less than the federal poverty level, so when a parent no longer qualifies, their child might still.

After pressure from Democrats for an investigation, top staff at the Department of Social Services acknowledged in a legislative hearing that the state was dropping children from the program when their parents no longer qualified even when the children themselves still did.

“When I talked to people in other states, they were really surprised that that’s how we did it,” McBride said. “They said, ‘no, that’s not how it should’ve been done.’ No other state did it that way.”

Republicans argued that parents could have simply reapplied for their children, but there is evidence that the program’s eligibility system was flawed and that parents were given little guidance on the process.

In several of its regular meetings, the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee discussed this. The minutes from the committee’s August 2018 meeting show that the committee heard from a representative of Legal Aid of Western Missouri who explained that her clients were having trouble getting access to call centers after being denied Medicaid. She said that in July 2018, the average call center wait time was 30 minutes, compared to 4 minutes in February 2017. She also said that dropped calls increased from 4% the year prior to 60% that year.

In that same meeting, one of the committee members, Jennifer Tidball, explained that the drop in enrollment can be attributed to the stability of the program’s eligibility system, according to the meeting minutes.

In the minutes from the April 2019 meeting, the committee heard from a different legal expert, this one representing Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, who described “dysfunctional call centers, burdensome paperwork and the inability of receiving any help” from local offices as issues his clients faced when trying to reapply.

We reached out to the Galloway campaign who said they had the same evidence we did.

Our ruling

On Facebook and in campaign ads, Galloway said that “Governor Parson’s administration purged 100,000 kids from Medicaid rolls.”

The Missouri Department of Social Services’s data shows that 96,989 children were dropped from Medicaid under Parson’s administration from June 2018 to December 2019.

A letter from Parsons’ campaign attorney states that “the governor has, at no time, taken any policy decision to change eligibility for children on Medicaid or any other health coverage in Missouri.”

This does not refute Galloway’s claim though. While Parson’s administration may not have taken a formal step to change policy regarding Medicaid eligibility, we found that, under his leadership, the Department of Social Services changed the process for which eligibility is reviewed. That change resulted in 96,989 children being cut from Medicaid when they were still eligible.

That’s still about 3,000 children short of Galloway’s claim, but her argument that Parson’s administration removed a huge number of children from Medicaid is still accurate. We rate this claim Mostly True.

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