fb-pixel Skip to main content

Up to 30,000 people could lose Medicaid coverage, R.I. health officials say

The Medicaid renewal and eligibility determination will only affect health insurance coverage, but will not impact other benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

A physical therapist works with a patient at a field hospital operated by Care New England set up in a former bank call center to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients in Cranston, R.I, Dec. 14, 2020. Roughly 84 million people are covered by Medicaid, the government-sponsored program that's grown by 20 million people since January 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, as states begin checking everyone’s eligibility for Medicaid for the first time in three years, as many as 14 million people could lose access to that coverage.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — State health officials estimate that approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Rhode Islanders will lose their health insurance coverage during Medicaid eligibility checks, which is being mandated by the federal government and will begin April 1.

Approximately 84 million people are covered by Medicaid nationwide. This is the first time in three years that states have checked the eligibility of those enrolled in the government-sponsored program, which grew by 20 million people since January 2020.

There are approximately 360,000 Rhode Islanders on Medicaid — about one third of the state’s population. That number is expected to decrease to about 338,000 by March 2024, according to Kristin Sousa, Rhode Island’s Medicaid program director.


Rhode Island plans to spend the next year through March 2024 using a “staggered” approach to renewals. Those who are covered by Medicaid should expect a notice in the mail in the coming weeks to begin the process. Households with children won’t have to renew until the end of the year to ensure their coverage does not lapse.

The Medicaid renewal and eligibility determination will only affect health insurance coverage, but will not impact other benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Kimberly Merolla-Brito, the acting director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, said the agency has already mailed notices of the changes to those who are covered by Medicaid. Of the notices sent by Thursday morning, 166,000 were in English, 26,0000 were in Spanish, and 2,000 were in Portuguese, she said.

About 7 percent of the state’s residents on Medicaid cannot be reached by mail. Given the state’s housing crisis, Sousa recommends that participants update their contact information and sign up for email, phone, and text message alerts.

“I would also venture to guess that 7 percent is quite low,” said Sousa.

Those with “passive” renewals, which means the state knows theirfinancial information and can decide if they are still eligible, do not need to take any action.


Those with full or “active” renewals, which means the state does not have enough financial information to deem them eligible immediately, will receive a notice requesting additional information. They will have 60 days to provide it to the state’s Department of Human Services.

Congress stopped annual renewal checks during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that people did not lose their health insurance coverage. But the federal government, which is sunsetting the public health emergency protections this spring, is once again requiring states to conduct yearly renewals.

Sousa told the Globe on Thursday morning prior that the state has had technical calls on a weekly basis in preparation.

“It’s one of the largest things the country will do since the (Affordable Care Act),” said Sousa. “But even on the federal level, there’s some anxiety.”

Merolla-Brito said multiple agencies and private partners will assist in the process. “No one agency would be able to handle it (alone),” she said.

If a Rhode Islander on Medicaid is denied renewal, then they will receive information about purchasing coverage through Health Source RI, which is the state’s health insurance marketplace. About 30 percent of customers there pay less than $20 per month for their plans. These Rhode Islanders will be eligible to enroll in a 60-day special enrollment period where two months of premiums will be paid for, said Health Source RI director Lindsay Lang.


Lang said about 2.9 percent of all Rhode Islanders are uninsured as of Thursday morning. Approximately 4 percent of Rhode Islanders were uninsured in 2019.

“Our goal is avoid a significant uptick of uninsured in Rhode Island,” said Lang, who added that she expects the increase of uninsured residents will range between 2.9 and 4 percent by the end of the Medicaid renewal checks in 2024.

Governor Daniel J. McKee told the Globe that he felt as though states have been supported by the federal government leading up to the mandate’s deadline.

After vaccinating more than 90 percent of Rhode Islanders against COVID-19, “This is just the next task,” McKee said.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.