Shameca Reeves, 41 is a certified nursing assistant, mother of two from Asbury Park. She works part-time at Quest Labs taking people’s blood and making sure the process is properly coded, which she does while skillfully taking the patient’s sample and maintaining a pleasant manner. She recently found out that her Medicaid health insurance has been terminated and as a consequence she’s having to put off seeking healthcare treatment she needs but knows will cost her money she cannot afford.
Shameca Reeves is also a conscientious voter.
No one would deny that Shameca Reeves is an essential worker doing a job that’s not without its very real occupational risks, the kind she’s taken working throughout her entire career as a certified nursing assistant in congregant care facilities.
“I discovered when I took my son to a speech therapist and they said that my HMO was not going through and I found that odd—I have never had that problem before, but it was too late in the day, so I called the next day and they said I was terminated from the program on April 30, 2023,” Reeves told InsiderNJ.
Reeves termination came despite the fact that she had filed for renewal. Ultimately, she said she was terminated due to her income being too high. Reeves had been on Medicaid for close to 15 years. Her 13-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, who’s now in college, were all on that same Medicaid account that was closed out.
“All three of us were on the same application and they kept my son on—I was told my 13-year-old would be enrolled in a different type of program and I was told I could purchase insurance from the government that was affordable and that I would be receiving paperwork for that, but I never got that paper,” Reeves said.
For Reeves her Medicaid is administered through Monmouth County Social Services.
“They do what they can—they were very nice and put out a phone call for someone from [the state] Medicaid to call me because you can’t just call Medicaid directly,” Reeves said. “I was told that I could enroll [in a new plan] on the government’s website where there was a link to click if you were terminated from Medicaid but then it asks for some kind of access code” Reeves did not have.
SAVE ONLY THE CHILDREN?
As of August 1st, her son will be on a new plan though both herself and her daughter will have no coverage. She’s planning to appeal the termination while she does more research on what might be available through the state healthcare exchange or her employer.
Reeves is evidently just one of millions of Americans who have been thrown off of Medicaid following President Biden’s ending of the national public health emergency back in the spring. The emergency declaration was put in place at the start of COVID, a mass death event which killed over 1.1 million Americans while disabling millions more and costing the economy an estimated $14 trillion.
While the emergency declaration was in effect, the government linked expanded reimbursements to healthcare providers with states loosening their criteria for individuals and families to enroll in Medicaid. By suspending Medicaid’s income verification checks, and not dropping subscribers through continuous enrollment, health officials helped ensure the maximum number of struggling households kept their access to healthcare coverage. In turn, that helped the country tame the spread of the deadly virus that threatened both the insured and uninsured.
When InsiderNJ wrote to Gov. Murphy’s press team about Shameca Reeves’s circumstance we got the following ‘nothing to see here-ho-hum response.’ The machine that is the State of New Jersey was working just as it was designed, devoid of the emotional intelligence that I was asking about a specific human being in a very perilous circumstance.
“Please see the following press release from the NJ Department of Human Services earlier this year explaining why this is happening, how the process works/what people should be on the lookout for, and how they’re helping connect people with other coverage through GetCovered NJ if they are no longer eligible for NJ FamilyCare: Department of Human Services | NJ FamilyCare to Resume Eligibility Reviews; Members Urged to Update Contact Information.
What seems to have escaped the Murphy administration, as well as the Biden White House, are the studies that linked the fragmented nature of the American healthcare system, including its large uninsured and under insured population, to its poor showing during the pandemic. While we are just 4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. had 12 percent of the COVID deaths, well behind the performance of other affluent nations.
While we were in the throes of the pandemic, our elected representatives, including Gov. Murphy, made all manner of solemn promises about ‘learning the hard lessons’ of the pandemic which was particularly devastating in communities of color where access to healthcare has always been problematic.
According to a 2022 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had the U.S. had universal health care, 338,000 fewer Americans would have died during the pandemic.
“People who don’t have insurance usually don’t have a primary care doctor and are more likely to suffer from preventable diseases like diabetes. Such comorbidities exacerbate risks of COVID-19 mortality,” Alison Galvani, the lead author on the study, told USA TODAY. “They also tend to wait longer to seek treatment, which further compounds death and transmission rates.”
Over the arc of the three years of liberalized access, Medicare grew nationally covering 94 million Americans, almost a third of the nation. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation “between February 2020 and March 2023, Medicaid enrollment grew by an estimated 20 million people, contributing to declines in the uninsured rate, which dropped to the lowest level on record in early 2022.”
In New Jersey, the state’s “Medicaid program grew 35 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people lost jobs with health insurance or could no longer afford to buy commercial plans,” according to [NJ%20Spotlight]NJ Spotlight. 2.25 million New Jersey residents, nearly 25 percent of the state ended up in the state’s subsidized health care plan.
Earlier this month the news website reported that state officials had contacted “close to half a million Medicaid members as part of an ongoing federally mandated post-pandemic review to ensure participants still qualify for the subsidized health insurance program, which expanded significantly during the COVID-19 outbreak.”
As of July 28, the state had not posted the June report which would confirm the number of Medicaid enrollees that have either been re-enrolled or dropped from the program that’s been such a vital lifeline for hundreds of thousands of state residents.
On July 7th NJ Spotlight reported back in 2022 the state was estimating that “more than 280,000 residents would likely lose coverage over the course of a year.” And “while some will qualify for discounted commercial policies through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace, health care advocates have warned that this so-called unwinding could create another public health crisis.”
ROBO POLICY BEREFT OF HUMANITY
Initially, close to 4 million Medicaid enrollees have been terminated from the program in 39 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF notes a wide disparity between states when it comes to termination rates that range from as low as 8 percent in Wyoming to 82 percent in Texas. New Jersey wasn’t included in the latest KFF analysis, but by frame of reference, New York State recorded 59,000 such healthcare coverage terminations.
Back in August of last year, in a [t]Medicaid fact sheet put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the agency predicted the ‘unwinding’ would cause 15 million people to lose their health coverage with “children and young adults impacted disproportionately.” Overall, one third of the cohort of the terminated would be Latino and 15 percent Black.
Whether it be the rolling back of the Expanded Income Tax Credit for Children, which briefly lifted millions of children out of poverty for the months it was on the books, or this premeditated robo-unwinding of Medicaid, we show no signs of having learned anything from COVID.
Rachel Dawn Davis is the tri-chair of New Jersey’s Poor People’s Campaign, which is part of the national campaign led by Rev. Dr, William Barber, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theorharis to shift our national conversation to address the challenges faced by 140 million Americans that struggle month to month to make end meet even though so many are essential workers in fields like healthcare.
Davis says Shameca Reeves’s story is all too common and is the consequence of a political system entirely in the service of a corporate worldview that obsessively puts profits over people.
“It’s just maddening under these circumstances when you are trying to provide for your family and are told you are being paid too much so that you have access cut off to support [like healthcare] that was really beneficial to you,” said Rachel Dawn Davis, tri-chair of New Jersey’s Poor People’s Campaign. “And so what actually happens is that your quality of life goes down because you are constantly struggling to move life forward.”
It bears repeating because our corporate power structure which owns our politics continues to ignore it.
Healthcare workers are the foundation of the entire healthcare system. During the pandemic, when our government and our for-profit healthcare system were completely unprepared, it was healthcare workers and their families that paid the highest price with thousands of them dying as a direct consequence.
RIP OFF THE BAND-AID
Dr. Ed Zuroweste is the chief medical officer for the Migrant Clinicians Network , a non-profit that works on health issues for immigrants who live in marginalized communities that are home to many essential workers that could be most at risk for the ongoing Medicaid purge.
“We were greatly concerned that a huge number of low wage workers were going to lose their Medicaid and so, I am sure that’s happening especially in states that didn’t expand Medicaid [before the pandemic],” Zuroweste told InsiderNJ. “They were supposed to be able to get fairly inexpensive insurance through Obama healthcare plans but that’s a process and they would have to pay for that and now we are sure millions will go back to being uninsured.”
Zuroweste continued. “During the pandemic we put a lot of money on an emergency Band-Aid on our health care system instead of figuring out a sustainable, long term healthcare solution which is universal healthcare.”
Shameca Reeves told InsiderNJ that with 14 years in healthcare, including the nursing home sector she “hadn’t seen it all” but had “seen enough”. As for universal healthcare, Reeves said she was on the fence.
“I don’t know—I am not fully aware of how universal health care would work—with that could come higher taxes,” Reeves reasoned. But she was clear that healthcare workers like herself should all have healthcare coverage.
“Most definitely, we should have healthcare if we work in healthcare,” she said. “All healthcare workers need healthcare because we need to stay healthy to help everybody else stay healthy.”