At the community health center in downtown Lowell, patient navigator Abbas Tanner made a phone call — one of dozens that he and his colleagues would make that day.
On the line was a 29-year-old woman from Leominster who needed help renewing her insurance from MassHealth, the state Medicaid program. Tanner asked a series of questions about her family, her income and her immigration status, typing her answers on his laptop.
“Has any information changed in regards to your tax filing status?” Tanner asked the woman. An interpreter, Maria Cruz, translated into Portuguese. After about 15 minutes, they renewed the patient’s insurance under MassHealth.
This work of guiding people through the sometimes tedious task of obtaining health coverage is critical right now. It’s part of a sweeping effort across Massachusetts to help low-income families and individuals maintain access to health care during a turbulent time for MassHealth.
During the COVID health emergency, federal rules allowed Medicaid recipients in Massachusetts and other states to keep their benefits indefinitely, even if their income increased. But the grace period has ended. Now, people have to prove they qualify.
If for some reason they don’t receive their renewal notice, or don’t respond fast enough, they could lose health coverage altogether.
The burden is especially high for immigrants and communities of color who don’t speak English, or who lack easy access to technology.
Outreach workers are going door to door in Chelsea, Brockton, Framingham and a dozen other communities with big numbers of residents on MassHealth. They knocked on more than 260,000 doors and talked to 55,000 people in just two months.
“This is a massive undertaking,” said Maria Gonzalez, who helped launch the outreach campaign at Health Care For All, a consumer advocacy group hired to work with the state.
If MassHealth members don’t take action to renew, “there’s a possibility that they may lose coverage — and that’s what nobody wants,” Gonzalez said.
Enrollment specialists, including those at Lowell Community Health Center, are working across the state to help people renew their MassHealth insurance, or move to other plans.
People who become ineligible for MassHealth may qualify for subsidized plans on the state insurance exchange, called the Health Connector — and about 16,000 have already done so. (Some Connector plans have premiums of just a few dollars a month.) Other people leaving MassHealth may be able to get health coverage through their employers.
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