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By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News

 

Big Sky Connection - Montana children's health advocates are grappling with a dramatic dropoff in the number of kids receiving Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) benefits. Critics argue the state rushed kids off the rolls instead of ensuring their well-being, those readjusting the post-pandemic rules say they are simply being efficient. Comments from Jackie Semmens, budget analyst, Montana Budget and Policy Center; and Joan Alker, executive director, Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and research professor, McCourt School of Public Policy.

Click on the image above for the audio.  In Montana, 6.9% of children do not have health insurance, ranking the state 44th out of 51, according to Georgetown University's study. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

May 9, 2024 - More than 4 million children nationwide were removed from Medicaid and CHIP health coverage by the end of 2023 as the government reset the programs after the pandemic. As a percentage, Montana children took the nation's biggest hit.

new report showed 30,000 fewer kids receiving Medicaid or CHIP benefits in Montana than at the start of the pandemic, or a 15% drop, the largest falloff in the nation.

Jackie Semmens, budget analyst for the Montana Budget and Policy Center, thinks the state re-evaluated its Medicaid rolls much more quickly than it needed to, doing avoidable damage.

"We can see that the state's decision to rush through the process -- to not pause it when we knew large amounts of children were being disenrolled, to not use the flexibility from the federal government -- we can see that had real impacts," Semmens asserted. "Montana has ended up being an outlier in children disenrollment."

Semmens pointed out taking children off the Medicaid and CHIP rolls means they are denied services when they need them most, ranging from routine wellness visits to specialty services.

Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and co-author of the report, acknowledged there was some bureaucratic confusion when the government ended its pandemic protections keeping people insured but noted there were states managing to keep much higher numbers of children covered.

Alker blames states with dramatic dropoffs, such as Montana, on rushed bureaucracy.

"States that saw a really large number of children disenrolling, I place that squarely on the governor," Alker emphasized. "Because the folks doing the work needed the resources, they needed the staffing, they needed the procedures and the effort to make this a smoother process than it has been."

The report found the states of California, Florida, Georgia and Texas have seen the largest numbers of children dropped from receiving Medicaid and CHIP services.

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