Op-Ed | NYC Council must take action to protect 4M residents at risk of losing their health care coverage

In New York state, the COVID-19 public health emergency ensured 9.2 million enrollees in Medicaid, Child Health Plus and the Essential Plan remained insured over the past three years without having to go through the usual annual renewal process.
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The NYC Council has an important opportunity to ensure that millions of New Yorkers keep their health insurance coverage. The issue is this: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. federal government declared a public health emergency in early 2020 that automatically renewed coverage for beneficiaries of Medicaid and other public health insurance programs. Beginning this spring, new federal rules require states to begin redetermining eligibility for public program enrollees.

In New York, the public health emergency ensured 9.2 million enrollees in Medicaid, Child Health Plus (CHPlus) and the Essential Plan (EP) remained insured over the past three years without having to go through the usual annual renewal process — that often churns people off health coverage. Policymakers are frightened that many of the 9.2 million New Yorkers who have public insurance – 4 million of whom live in New York City – risk losing their coverage. This is because it can be difficult to navigate the complexities of the renewal process – especially for New Yorkers who are older, have disabilities or are blind. Additionally, people who newly enrolled during the public health emergency may be unfamiliar with the renewal process. 

The NYC Council should protect low-income New Yorkers enrolled in these programs from the disruption that the public health emergency unwinding will cause by taking one simple step: increase funding to programs like the Managed Care Consumer Assistance program (MCCAP).

MCCAP helps residents across the city navigate our byzantine health care system through a free helpline and a network of 12 community-based organizations that provide in-person services in 15 languages and at 15 different locations across all five boroughs. Their advocates are trained and supported by the Community Service Society to help their clients access affordable care if they are uninsured, understand their insurance policies, resolve health insurance issues, get quality medical services, and address social determinants of health.

The Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC) is one of 12 community-based organizations that is part of MCCAP. NMIC uses a settlement house model to provide free services and programs to more than 14,000 residents of Upper Manhattan and the South and West Bronx annually, offering a range of housing, immigration, benefits and finance, health, education and career, and holistic services at no cost that help our clients secure successful and independent futures. Our client base is 98% racial and ethnic minority, and nearly 90% of those we enroll in health insurance speak a language other than English at home. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NMIC and other CBOs in the MCCAP network have provided much-needed advocacy assistance to thousands of New Yorkers who have struggled to secure affordable coverage and essential medical care. Since 2020, the program has handled more than 10,000 cases, saving New Yorkers nearly $600,000 in health care-related costs. Without programs like MCCAP, NMIC’s community members would lose access to life-saving health care services that are vital to building equitable, healthy and fair communities. 

We now have a major challenge in front of us with the unwinding of the federal public health emergency that threatens to leave public health insurance beneficiaries, who are disproportionately people of color and at greatest risk for health inequities, without access to coverage and care. Increasing funding for MCCAP is a critical step to ensure that they can rely on an advocate who can help them re-certify their coverage, explore other coverage options and troubleshoot potential issues with gaps in coverage, medical bills, etc. 

We urge the City Council to consider increasing funding for MCCAP to $2.3 million in the FY24 budget, which will allow the program to substantially increase the capacity of the existing network and add an additional 14 new community-based organizations. Now more than ever, New York City residents need trusted and experienced MCCAP advocates on their side to help them keep their coverage and access the care they need. Please don’t let them down. 

Maria Lizardo is executive director of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation.