COVID-19 Updates: Healthcare Access and Public Benefits

Updated Dec. 30th, 2020, original post May 27th, 2020

Healthcare Access and Public Benefits

From our Family Support & Health Care team: Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Family Support and Health Care team is working to ensure family stability through fair access to vital healthcare and public services during this period of uncertainty.

We are particularly focused on the most vulnerable groups in our community who often do not have access to these services: children, seniors, people living with disabilities, immigrants and their families. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is monitoring the situation to make sure residents continue to have uninterrupted access to benefits and healthcare during the COVID-19 outbreak. Anyone experiencing issues should contact us by calling 704-376-1600.

The open enrollment period for health insurance through the Marketplace has ended but Health Insurance Navigator Services still available by phone: The Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigators are still available for phone appointments to help consumers understand their health coverage options and assist them with the following:

  • Marketplace applications (Affordable Care Act)
  • Medicaid applications
  • Food Stamp (SNAP) applications
  • Marketplace appeals
  • Medicaid denials/terminations
  • Issues accessing care through private insurance or Medicaid

Navigators can help people complete their applications online by phone.

To schedule a FREE appointment:

  • go online to ncnavigator.net, Local navigator appointments are available online under zip code 28204 listed as “Phone Appointment with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.”
  • call the statewide appointments hotline 1-855-733-3711,
  • call our new Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy Navigator direct line at 980-256-3782.

Navigators are also available to assist clients needing to communicate with Mecklenburg County DSS to help them address with any barriers they may be experiencing regarding access to healthcare or food stamps.

SEPs are generally life changes that affect your access to health coverage and enrollment must be done within 60 days of the change. However, due to COVID-19, the enrollment period has been expanded to include anyone who has experienced any of the above life changing events since January 1st, 2020. If you lost your employment and healthcare coverage from any time beginning January 1st, 2020, you are eligible to enroll in Marketplace health coverage even if the initial 60 day SEP has passed. Read more.

Individuals interested in applying for Medicaid can do so all year around and do not need an SEP.

While our government and healthcare systems are expanding access to testing for the uninsured, enrollment in a Marketplace plan can cover any additional associated costs such as a hospitalization and provide peace of mind for consumers during this tense time.

Access to Medicaid during COVID-19: (last updated December 2020)

During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, states must NOT terminate Medicaid eligibility except for:

  • if the beneficiary is no longer a resident of the state (including those who are deceased).
  • if the beneficiary voluntarily requests termination of Medicaid benefits.

North Carolina County Departments of Social Services must accept self-attestation for all eligibility criteria except citizenship and immigration status, when documentation and/or electronic sources are not available.

Individuals who must pay an enrollment fee for NC Health Choice or an enrollment fee and/or premium for Health Care for Workers with Disabilities (HCWD) will be exempt from that requirement until further notice.

N.C. Medicaid Program expands access to telemedicine: (last updated December 2020) In March, N.C. Medicaid temporarily modified its Telemedicine and Telepsychiatry Clinical Coverage Policies to better enable the delivery of remote care to Medicaid beneficiaries. In addition to telephone conversations and secure electronic messaging, the modifications included the use of two-way real-time interactive audio and video to provide and support physical and behavioral health care when participants are in different physical locations. These changes will remain in effect until the North Carolina State of Emergency is declared to be over or when the policy is rescinded.

Read more about the policies here, and find helpful information for Medicaid beneficiaries, including an introduction to telehealth, a checklist for telehealth appointments, and information on internet access and telehealth, and information on telehealth for specific health needs or conditions, here.

N.C. requests waivers for Medicaid program: (Last Updated December 2020)

In March 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved NC’s 1135 waiver request to allow for more flexibility in providing healthcare access, such as:

  • providing services in alternative settings;
  • extending the amount of time individuals have to request a Medicaid fair hearing for fee-for-service eligibility and service appeal requests;
  • temporarily suspending prior authorization requirements for medically necessary services provided through the fee-for-service delivery system, and
  • faster application and enrollment processes for health care professionals to provide care to Medicaid beneficiaries.

These 1135 waivers will remain in effect until the end of the federal Public Health Emergency. Read more about the waivers here and here.

In March, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services requested other waivers from the federal government to ensure uninterrupted services for the state’s Medicaid beneficiaries. The waiver request includes measure to:

  • streamline the enrollment process;
  • waive limits on access to hospital beds and lengths of stay in the hospital, and
  • waive restrictions to expand alternatives to institutionalized care, such as in-home care services

Read more.

Medicaid for patients with breast and cervical cancer: Effective October 1, 2020 access to Medicaid coverage for women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer has been greatly expanded! (See Medicaid bulletin here.) Note that women diagnosed since July 1, 2020 are eligible under this new policy.  If you have any questions about the changes, are interested in a brief presentation for staff/patients/clients on the updated coverage, or experience any problems accessing Medicaid for these women, please contact our office at (980) 202-7361.

Access to healthcare for immigrants and their families: (Updated Dec. 2020)

According to the National Immigration Law Center, our national partner:

  • The Families First Act provides additional funding to pay for coronavirus testing for anyone who is uninsured. The funding will pay for testing at community health centers, outpatient clinics, and doctors’ offices.
  • The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provided additional funding to support testing and treatment for the uninsured through a program administered by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).
  • Immigrants can continue to access services at community health centers, regardless of their immigration status, and at a reduced cost or free of charge depending on their income. However, people should call first to find out the availability of COVID-19 screening and testing. Health centers may do patient assessments over the phone or using telehealth.
  • Eligibility for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces has not changed.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently posted an alert clarifying that it will not consider testing, treatment, or preventive care (including vaccines if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 in a public charge inadmissibility determination, even if the health care services are covered by Medicaid.

Learn more from NILC.

Changes to N.C. food stamps in NC: (Updated Jan. 2021)

From January 1st, 2021 through June 30th, 2021, the maximum monthly food stamp benefit will be increased by 15% for all household sizes. Additionally, throughout the pandemic, North Carolina has been providing a monthly supplement of food stamps to families who are not receiving the maximum monthly allotment for a household of their size so that all families receive this maximum (for January through June of 2021, families will receive a supplement up to the increased household maximum). We hope NC will continue to request this monthly supplement from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as families’ access to food is still dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina has made other changes to the food stamps program in response to COVID-19. For example, households receiving food stamps with 6-month certification periods that end between November 30, 2020 and June 30, 2021 will be automatically extended for 6 months. Households with application or recertification dates through January 31, 2021 to sign their food stamps application over the phone. North Carolina also received approval to extend waivers that suspend collection of all food stamps and Work First overpayments, that provide alternative procedures for conducting Administrative Disqualification Hearings by phone and extend the timeframe for the full ADH process, and that extend the timeframe of the fair hearing process. These waivers expire on January 31, 2021, however the option to conduct ADH hearings by phone has been accepted as a permanent change and will not expire.

Pandemic EBT

In the Spring, North Carolina was approved to provide Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits to children who would have had access to free or reduced-price meals at school, but their schools were closed due to COVID-19. P-EBT was provided to children in August and September of the 2020-21 school year as well, with slightly different eligibility factors.

The new COVID-19 relief bill passed Dec. 22nd by congress improves P-EBT benefits for school age children and extends these benefits to children younger than age six. We are awaiting North Carolina’s state plan to better understand how eligibility will be determined for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.

Mecklenburg County DSS offices closed to the public: (Last updated Dec. 2020)

As of March 18, Mecklenburg County closed its Department of Social Services (DSS) offices to the public and has been conducting all business via telephone and mail. You can contact Customer Connection, the DSS Call Center, at 704-336-3000 for assistance including: to request applications for DSS services, check the status of your case, obtain information or referrals to DSS or community programs, notify DSS of a change in your situation, or request a replacement Medicaid card.

At Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s urging, DSS has agreed to honor the date of phone calls as date of application for applicants, to not terminate benefits missed deadlines, to allow late appeals, and to post clear signage in front of their buildings outlining this information.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is monitoring the situation to make sure residents continue to have uninterrupted access to benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak. Anyone experiencing issues should contact us at 704-376-1600.

Social Security office remains closed to the public (last updated December 2020)

Since March 17, 2020, all local Social Security Administration offices have been closed to the public. To reach Social Security, you can call toll free to 800-772-1213.

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