More than 35,000 Florida residents have lost the healthcare coverage they signed up for under the Affordable Care Act because they failed to prove their U.S. citizenship or legal residency status by a Sept. 5 deadline.
Coverage for those who could not verify their eligibility ended on Sept. 30, according to a statement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Officials at CMS said the agency made “numerous” attempts to inform people that they would lose their healthcare coverage unless they submitted proof of citizenship or legal residency by Sept. 5.
Rocio Balbin of Hialeah was nearly among them. This spring, federal officials told Balbin, 46, that they needed more documentation to verify that she was a legal resident and that her husband, Luis Martinez, had correctly stated his income. Balbin was born in Colombia.
Martinez, 52, mailed the information to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services facility in London, Kentucky, but officials there were slow to process it, leaving Martinez, who has a history of heart attacks, and Balbin in danger of losing their health coverage and a $457 monthly subsidy.
The Miami Herald wrote about the couple’s ordeal on July 28. Within two weeks, Martinez said in a recent interview, the feds decided that he and his wife were eligible for coverage under the ACA.
“It got fixed as fast as the Indy 500,” Martinez said.
About 195,000 other Americans also submitted their documents in time to keep their coverage, including 58,700 Florida residents.
But around the nation, 115,000 people lost their insurance after failing to meet the deadline. More than 35,000 of them live in Florida — the most of any single state. The national numbers only take into account people who live in one of the 36 states such as Florida that have exchanges run in full or part by the federal government.
California, which runs its own state exchange, canceled ACA coverage earlier this week for more than 10,000 residents who failed to verify their citizenship or residency. People without legal status in the U.S. are not eligible for federal financial aid under the ACA.
Those who lost their coverage after missing the deadline may still be able to get it back, provided that they submit proper documentation, said Aaron Albright, a spokesman for CMS. If their eligibility is confirmed, Albright said, “they have 60 days to re-enroll into a marketplace plan” before the end of the year.
In Florida, many of those who lost their coverage are probably not native English speakers, said Nicholas Duran, state director for Enroll America, a non-profit that advocates for consumers to get covered under the ACA.
“It’s difficult to know who this population is exactly,” Duran said, “but a lot of these folks are living in the counties that have the lion’s share of enrollment: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach.”
Duran said Enroll America will help consumers who lost their coverage figure out how they can re-enroll. It will also advise new customers on what documents they’ll need to prove their eligibility by reaching out to them with texts, calls and emails in their native languages.
During the last year, the government had a significant delay in reconciling self-reported information such as citizenship status and income level with existing federal data.
A June report by HHS’ Office of the Inspector General stated that “the Federal marketplace was unable to resolve 2.6 million of 2.9 million inconsistencies because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) eligibility system was not fully operational.”
Albright said CMS made significant progress over the summer, reducing a backlog of 966,000 individuals with citizenship or residency issues by 88 percent.
The September deadline was the government’s last push to make sure everyone who signed up during the previous enrollment period was a legal resident of the U.S.
About 7.3 million Americans have coverage under the ACA, according to the most recent government figures, which were released in August. The next open enrollment period for consumers to sign up for new plans or renew their old ones runs from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15. This week CMS sent letters to consumers explaining how they can renew their coverage before the enrollment period ends.
This story was produced in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.