April 4, 2023 

Hi CommonHealth reader,

A federal pandemic-era rule that prevented states from removing people from their Medicaid rolls expired last week.

Now, Massachusetts officials have begun the process of determining who among the 2.3 million people covered by the state Medicaid program — known as MassHealth — is still eligible for the program.

Over the course of the next year, this process is expected to shift some 300,000 people from MassHealth coverage to private health plans. (Many of them will qualify for subsidies on the state insurance marketplace, called the Health Connector).

This is a story about health insurance and the sometimes burdensome paperwork it entails. But for Gladys Vega, it’s personal, too.

"Coverage, for me, it's huge," said Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa, a Chelsea-based community organization that serves Latino immigrants.

Vega hosted state officials last week for the kickoff of a campaign to educate people about the changes coming to MassHealth. Afterwards, she told me that fresh memories of COVID are motivating her to help her neighbors keep their coverage and stay healthy.

The Chelsea community — home to many low-income families and essential workers who couldn’t isolate during the early days of the pandemic — was devastated by COVID. 

"Surviving the pandemic makes me not take anything for granted when it comes to health," Vega said. "[During the pandemic] when we were giving food in the streets, I would ask people, 'Where's your mom? I haven't seen her. How is she doing?' And they would say, 'Gladys, she died because of COVID.' "

Vega and her colleagues plan to spread the word about MassHealth's new eligibility rules by knocking on doors in Chelsea and surrounding communities, and talking to residents in line at the local food pantry. She wants to make sure that people who rely on MassHealth coverage don’t forget to respond to important mail, which will come in a bright blue envelope from the state.

People who don’t update their income and other information within 45 days of receiving a letter from MassHealth could lose their insurance benefits altogether.

"After everything that we went through [in] the pandemic and how many people remain sick with need of health care coverage, we don't have the luxury to ignore how important this is," Vega said.

Health care providers and community groups across the state say they are prepared to help people through this transition. I talked about this on WBUR’s daily podcast, The Common last week. And stay tuned for more coverage ahead.

P.S.— Local journalism plays an essential role in our lives and our democracy. At WBUR, we’re doing everything we can to keep local journalism strong with deep, nuanced reporting — on air, online and in newsletters like this one. We rely on funding from our readers and listeners. Please make a gift today to help us continue this important work.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
Senior Health Reporter

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