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MassHealth resumes renewals after pandemic pause

Health Centers step up to aid residents with application process

Avery Bleichfeld
MassHealth resumes renewals after pandemic pause
Community health centers such as Whittier Street Health Center and Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center can assist MassHealth recipients through the application process. COURTESY PHOTO

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state put a pause on renewing eligibility for MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. Now, following the end of the state’s emergency status in May, the program is returning to renewing the status of its recipients.

For recipients across the state, that means redetermining their eligibility status to continue receiving health benefits based on their income and other factors.

Teresa Rondinelli-Mejia, lead certified application counselor at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center in Dorchester, said that big push from the state is taking the form of thousands of blue envelopes.

“What they decided is that everybody that gets this big, 8-inch by 10-inch blue envelope has to renew,” Rondinelli-Mejia said.

Those envelopes are being sent out in batches. While the process overall is stretching from April 2023 to April 2024, Frederica Williams, president and CEO of Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury, said when recipients receive their envelope they generally have 45 days to respond.

Those seeking to renew can do so online through the Health Insurance Exchange system or over the phone. They can also seek assistance from a certified application counselor, like Rondinelli-Mejia, at community health centers.

Those counselors can help guide MassHealth recipients through the redetermination process, including in languages other than English, Rondinelli-Mejia said.

“And the key too, though, is even though materials are in different languages, not everybody can read and write even in their language,” Williams said. “So, we’ve put together a multicultural team that is there to help people speak the language and do the translation.”

Williams gave examples of staff members prepared to help recipients who speak Spanish, Haitian Creole and Khmer, the language of Cambodia.

For Rondinelli-Mejia, the most important information to convey is when a MassHealth recipient gets an envelope in the mail, they should open it right away.

“Don’t put it aside and don’t disregard it,” she said. “Open it up. Look at the date that’s on the letter, which is the first piece of paper in the package and it will say your name, all that stuff, and it will say the date it’s due by.”

Williams, too, said it is important to not wait to address the notice.

“The key is, whatever channel you use, be prompt,” Williams said. “Forty-five days may seem like a lot of time, but if there’s documentation you have to go fish out, if there’s [something else], you know, that will take you a long time. Start right away.”

Recipients should respond promptly even if they have already received one notice and gone through the renewal process. Rondinelli-Mejia said some people receive a second envelope if something in the MassHealth system didn’t register correctly.

“Even though they already did it, maybe last month, if they get another blue envelope, they have to do it again, just for the sake of making sure that everything is up to date,” Rondinelli-Mejia said.

For recipients who missed the due date, they should still try to renew. Rondinelli-Mejia said that, once that due date passes the MassHealth system goes into termination mode, that process lasts for another week or two.

“It’s never been the case that just because the date was yesterday and you didn’t do anything, you got [terminated] yesterday or you got [terminated] the next morning. It doesn’t work like that,” Rondinelli-Mejia said.

For some MassHealth recipients, changes in employment or income may mean they are not eligible for the benefits they were receiving for the past three years during the pause in renewals. Rondinelli-Mejia said they should consider pursuing insurance through the Massachusetts Health Connector, which is available through the same website used to apply for MassHealth.

Assistance is available

Recipients looking to get assistance renewing at Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center should make an appointment ahead of time. Rondinelli-Mejia said that, while some walk-ins are available, it is better to make an appointment, generally open two to three days in advance.

Williams said Whittier Street Health Center is running walk-ins at its flagship location on Tremont Street in Roxbury. Those walk-ins are open to anybody, regardless of whether they’re a patient at the health center or not.

“We take anyone. If you show up from New Bedford, we’ll take you. We see people coming from Boston, from all over, coming in to sign up and we take whoever walks in,” Williams said. “If it’s busy, you may have to wait a minute.”

COVID, Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center, Massachusetts Health Connector, MassHealth, Whittier Street Health Center