Healthcare as a Lifeline: Medicaid Extension Provides Temporary Relief, but the Fight for Health Equity Continues for Black Detroiters
Thousands of Michigan Medicaid beneficiaries can breathe a sigh of relief as their coverage will continue for at least another month. In an era where health coverage is an uphill battle for many, this news resonates particularly within Detroit’s largely Black community, spotlighting the recurring struggle for equal access to healthcare.
But just how many people will lose coverage in the coming weeks as the state reviews eligibility for each beneficiary is still unclear. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing eligibility requirements now of 217,000 people currently covered by Medicaid. It’s the first batch of the more than 3 million people whose qualifications will be reevaluated from now through May 2024.
For many in the Black community, Medicaid is not just a government program, it’s a lifeline. The potential loss of coverage would not only be a setback but a life-threatening blow. With the extension, the potential for catastrophic health crises among Detroit’s most vulnerable populations is mitigated – at least for now. However, the threat of the unknown still looms large, and it is this constant tension that highlights the Black experience in the American healthcare system.
Since 2020, a special COVID-era rule has allowed people to stay on Michigan’s Medicaid programs, including the MI Child and Healthy Michigan Plan, without proof that they’re eligible.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, offered a 6.5 percent increase in matching funds to states that agreed to stop bumping people out of Medicaid coverage for the duration of the public health emergency. For more than two years, that action essentially paused a masses of people in and out of Medicaid programs and that essentially kept enrollment stable over time.
According to a December analysis by the Michigan House Fiscal Agency, 775,000 additional beneficiaries expanded the programs to cover more than 3 million Michiganders, the largest enrollment ever, at a cost of more than $50 million a month.
This Medicaid extension brings both a sigh of relief and a stark reminder. A reminder that for many, the day-to-day struggle for survival is compounded by systemic disparities and inequalities. Detroit’s Black residents are among those most affected, a testament to decades of racial health disparities that continue to plague our nation.
The reality is simple yet complex – some of those beneficiaries are no longer eligible for Medicaid because their income or family size has changed or a new employer now offers health coverage.
Now the clock is winding down, and beneficiaries must prove they’re still eligible. But in a shockingly recent survey, six in 10 adults on Medicaid didn’t realize they faced such a deadline. In turn, those who lose coverage could face surprise bills the next time they go in for a check-up, try to fill a prescription or go to an emergency room.
Health is a universal right, not a privilege. Yet, too often it is treated as the latter, and communities of color are left to pay the price. This Medicaid extension allows those in the Black community of Detroit a reprieve from this constant worry – but it is not enough.
When we think about the social determinants of health—where people live, work, and play—it becomes clear that simply extending health insurance coverage for a month is like applying a band-aid on a gunshot wound. We must focus on comprehensive solutions that address the underlying social and economic conditions that create health disparities in the first place.
As we move forward, it’s vital that we use this news as a catalyst for change. The extension of Medicaid coverage should not be seen as a victory, but a signal that the battle for equitable healthcare is far from over. It is a call to arms for everyone to ensure that healthcare access is not a fleeting headline, but a steadfast reality.
This story is not just about thousands on Medicaid—it’s about millions in America who are caught in the crossfire of health disparities. This issue is bigger than Detroit, bigger than Michigan. It’s a national issue that requires national attention and national action.
The extension of Medicaid coverage in Michigan is a relief, but it’s also a sobering reminder of the broader struggles faced by Black Detroiters and marginalized communities across the country. It’s a call for us all to do better, to be better, and to work for a future where healthcare isn’t just a right on paper, but a reality for everyone.
In the meantime, here’s some tips:
Be sure to fill out and return your renewal packet by its due date, even if you feel you have lost eligibility. Other members of the household — a child, for example — may still be eligible.
Find more information about the process of eligibility review and about alternate options to Medicaid at two new websites by MDHHS and DIFS to provide information about alternative health insurance options.
Update address, phone number and email addresses at www.michigan.gov/MIBridges or through a local MDHHS office. Those without an online account for MI Bridges can set one up through www.michigan.gov/MIBridges or with help from a community center assisting in the process.
For more information about Medicaid eligibility renewals, visit Michigan.gov/2023BenefitChanges. For more information about coverage options for those losing Medicaid coverage, visit Michigan.gov/StayCovered or call the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services at 877-999-6442, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.