The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) includes a Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit of $600 a week, which supplements traditional unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and provides an important source of additional financial support for individuals who qualify for these payments.
However, as highlighted in NASHP’s April 6, 2020 blog, Federal Guidance Needed to Clarify CARES Act Health Coverage Provisions, because these supplemental payments are counted as income for determining eligibility for marketplace subsidies – but not counted when determining eligibility for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – there could be challenges for both individuals and states.
States are required to use streamlined applications across their health coverage programs and several states (CT, DC, CO, MA, MD, MN, RI, VT, and WA) have developed fully integrated eligibility systems shared by their Medicaid and state marketplaces. States must closely coordinate across these agencies as any changes to application instructions or questions could have ramifications for eligibility determinations between the programs.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released guidance that provides information on ways that states can identify the $600 weekly payments that are to be disregarded when determining Medicaid and CHIP eligibility. While the guidance gives states implementation flexibility, the options offered could be burdensome for both state Medicaid and CHIP agencies and individuals. Some of the issues include:
- Complications in coordinating with state unemployment offices: The guidance suggests that state Medicaid and CHIP agencies can work directly with their state unemployment agencies to determine which individuals will qualify for the additional payments. Yet, implementing a plan to identify these individuals in close coordination with unemployment agencies that are already significantly stressed with handling increased consumer demand is expected to be challenging for states.
- Challenges in implementing system changes: CMS notes that state unemployment agencies have the option to include the supplemental payments within their regular UI payments, or make the supplemental payments separately, which could help identify the $600 supplement for health coverage purposes. Separating the supplemental $600 payment from an individual’s regular UI may create additional work for the unemployment agency at a time when they are least able to accommodate additional work, but it could help both Medicaid and CHIP agencies (and although not referenced in the guidance, the marketplaces) to account for those separated funds in eligibility calculations.
CMS suggests that if state Medicaid and CHIP agencies can identify and document that all UI recipients will receive the additional payments, they will be able to program their eligibility systems to automatically reduce all UI income by $600 per week until the additional payments end on July 31, 2020. While the guidance indicates that states can potentially receive a higher federal match rate for making these system changes, quickly implementing them on a temporary basis will be administratively difficult for states – and it also assumes that states will have the ability to determine that all UI recipients are eligible for the additional payments.
- Relying on individuals to correctly report income could create eligibility determination complications: CMS indicates that states can choose to provide instructions in application forms or in their call center scripts to direct individuals to not report the $600 per week additional payments in their income for Medicaid and CHIP eligibility determinations. States can also ask that individuals self-attest about whether or not their UI income includes the $600 per week of additional payments. But some individuals may still mistakenly report the supplemental payments or not provide the correct information about whether their UI income includes the additional payments, which could negatively affect their Medicaid or CHIP eligibility. It could also hamper the ability of states to make accurate eligibility decisions and could result in state eligibility determination workers having to conduct extensive outreach to clarify applicants’ income information.
An important, remaining issue is that the CMS guidance does not address how states should align Medicaid and CHIP eligibility determinations with the fact the CARES Act requires the $600 supplemental payments to be counted as income when assessing eligibility for marketplace subsidies. This is particularly concerning for low-income consumers who are deemed ineligible for Medicaid and then are deemed eligible for low or zero marketplace subsidies because the inclusion of the supplemental payments has pushed them into an even higher income threshold. Concerns also remain about whether consumers might face penalties for inaccurately reporting income because of confusion caused by the different reporting requirements.
Additional federal guidance from the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight is needed to ensure that states can make accurate and timely eligibility determinations and that individuals are efficiently enrolled in health coverage.