Kirra Jensen: Confusing Medicaid paperwork costs Utahns money and life-saving care

We need to invest in the well-being of our communities.

On July 5, I received a message from Utah Medicaid’s online platform, myCase, informing me that I had a notice in my portal. I logged in thinking that it was time for a review of my Medicaid case, but instead, I found a message that my coverage had ended five days before because I had not completed a review. Utah Medicaid had posted a review for me to complete, but despite having accurate contact information, I did not receive a letter, email or text until after they canceled my benefits.

I am chronically ill and have an invisible disability that is often debilitating. I have been fortunate enough to manage my condition with proper medical care. Since I lost my Medicaid coverage on June 30, I have not been able to access necessary medical care and medications.

For almost two-and-a-half months, I have been filling out paperwork and receiving messages that I need to fill out more verifications. I am now on my sixth round of verifications, with no news of whether my benefits will be reinstated.

During this time, I have had no way to access my medications, which cost approximately $150 per pill, potentially costing up to $4,500 a month. I have had to stop meeting with my therapist. I have had to cancel doctor appointments. The last few months have been challenging and stressful. I have dealt with days of excruciating pain and long nights of discomfort. I have felt hopeless about receiving the medical care I need to thrive. I have felt terrified about the future. I have cried a lot.

I am not alone. Since the COVID-19 pandemic protections delaying the cancellation of Medicaid ended in April of this year, 600,000 Americans have lost their coverage. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost access to lifesaving medical care. Moreover, many of them have lost this access not because they no longer require or qualify for this aid but because of issues with communication and paperwork. In Utah, 50% of individuals who lost their Medicaid health insurance since this change have lost it for procedural reasons. These include not returning renewal paperwork, as was the case for me. Some states have had rates of individuals losing coverage for procedural reasons as high as 89% in the first month after the change.

Even when I have received notifications from Medicaid of needed updates to my information, these forms have been unnecessarily convoluted and difficult to complete. Despite being highly educated, I have often had to reach out for help to complete this paperwork.

It seems as if we do not want to help those in need of life-saving medical care. Indeed, many argue that the cost of supporting individuals in need is too much. However, the cost of prevention is much less than that of neglect. Suppose we deny people access to medical care. In that case, we fail to take advantage of possible opportunities to identify and treat diseases early on, engage in preventative medicine practices that stop illnesses before their onset and reduce later hospitalizations. Not only that, but we also reduce the cost of lost productivity for our medical care system due to “excess medical care for avertable diseases and complications, as well as deleterious economic effects of illness on a healthy workforce.”

Most importantly, we save the cost of human lives and human suffering. The National Commission on Prevention Priorities estimates that 100,000 deaths could be avoided each year by providing preventative services. Health is a good that we should be willing to purchase. It is worth the money to save the lives of 100,000 of our neighbors. It is worth the cost to stop the suffering of so many more.

We need to invest in the well-being of our communities. We should want our neighbors to have access to safe and competent medical care. We should hold Utah Medicaid responsible for communicating necessary information rather than make our neighbors suffer for the lack of capability of these systems and services.

I hope Utahns will band together and be willing to vote and fight for better health care for their vulnerable neighbors.

Kirra Jensen

Kirra Jensen is a master of social work student at the University of Utah and a long-time recipient of Medicaid and CHIP services in Utah.