HFS: efforts underway to ensure children are not unintentionally removed from Medicaid rolls

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is working to alleviate concerns that children are losing coverage during the Medicaid redetermination process.

The agency said they have been working for several weeks on a solution to “allow for ex parte redeterminations at the individual level before any additional disenrollments occur.”

Additionally, they said an analysis will be conducted on those who have been disenrolled to determine which customers may qualify for reinstatement of their coverage in line with the guidelines the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have issued to states.

CMS sent a letter earlier this week to all state Medicaid directors asking them to evaluate whether children are being affected by the state’s Medicaid eligibility systems. If systems are faulty, the agency asked states to pause “procedural disenrollments” until the issue can be fixed.

“CMS is committed to ensuring that eligible individuals remain enrolled and appreciates states’ efforts to simplify and streamline renewal practices,” the letter said.

HFS said in its statement that it has been steadfast in its effort to address the ex parte eligibility issue brought up by the federal agency.

“(The system), like the majority of other states, was implemented and certified federally to look at cases holistically rather than individually,” they said.

SIU leaders talk statewide expansion of mental health program for farmers

Illinois leaders announced this week the statewide expansion of a program to provide telehealth mental health services to rural farmers.

The program, which began as a pilot operated by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the state’s departments of agriculture and human services, launched in 2021 in six counties as a helpline for those in need of mental health services.

The initiative “aims to improve collaboration across university-based programs and regional partners to improve access to quality healthcare for rural and farming communities,” SIU system President Daniel Mahony said during a press conference announcing the expansion at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur.

With the statewide expansion comes a new initiative that will see collaborations between the program and the chapters of the Illinois FFA Foundation to direct individuals to services.

Mahony and Karen Stillman, program coordinator for the initiative, spoke with Health News Illinois after the press conference. Edited excerpts below:

HNI: What’s the university’s role in this expansion?

DM: It’s an opportunity for farmers to get free mental healthcare, and to do that in a way that’s confidential and remote, with the six free sessions that they can get. What we’re trying to do right now, as much as possible, is to get the word out. The more avenues we have to get people to know that this is available and encourage them to use it, the more effective that will be as a resource.

KS: We say over and over that farmers do a good job taking care of their livestock, their crops, their equipment, but often not a good job of taking care of themselves. So we want them to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

HNI: What have you seen from this program as it expands?

KS: Our pilot started with the six central (Illinois) counties and lasted one year, and then we were able to expand this to the southern 66 counties. So we’ve seen our resources accessed more. We’ve seen the helpline utilized. More people are accessing things. So it’s certainly a need out there.

HNI: Where are things right now as far as mental health stigma for this population?

KS: I wouldn’t offer any kind of a gauge as far as where we are with the stigma. My husband and I farm, and the farm has been in the family for many years. People involved in agriculture and farmers are certainly a stoic bunch. We think we can fix things, and if things are a problem, we can make them better. Sometimes that’s not always the case. But trying to overcome that stigma, that it’s OK to reach out for help. We heard (Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton) say, ‘It’s OK not to be OK.’ We know that suicide among farmers is larger than it is in the general population. What we’re trying to do is just keep the resources in front of them, let them know what’s available, let them know it’s OK to talk to somebody and encourage people to reach out if they’re struggling at all. And sometimes, you don’t even have to be struggling — you just need somebody to talk to you.

DM: Younger people, they’re more willing to admit when they need help. And so I think having them part of this process and encouraging people to seek help is really important because they’d be the first line who says, ‘I see there’s a problem here. I see my family is struggling.’ So partnering with the Illinois FFA makes a lot of sense. I’ve just been incredibly impressed by the leadership of those students and what they’re able to do.

HNI: What more can policymakers do to help?

KS: I think just providing the funding and making sure that the funding is there to give us a mechanism to be able to continue what we’re doing.

DM: We’re really appreciative of the funding we’ve gotten and the support to do this. It’s really important to us to do it. I cannot thank the late (Sen.) Scott Bennett, who really was the champion of this and really pushed this forward. He really got a lot of other people on board, and you saw that today. The support that he was able to get for this initiative allows it to be something that’s going to be ongoing.