U.S. Secretary of Health pushes Georgia to improve healthcare access to children in need

ATLANTA — In a letter to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, federal officials pushed the state to address healthcare needs for children who lost medical coverage due to the state’s Medicaid and PeachCare unwinding process.

U.S. Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra wrote to Kemp’s office, saying to the state “as of September 2023, your data shows children’s Medicaid and CHIP enrollment in your state has declined by 149,080 children or 9% compared to March 2023.”

Removal of medical coverage benefits officially started for both children and adults in Georgia in July with what is known as “unwinding.” In 2022, officials estimated about 545,000 Medicaid beneficiaries were going to lose coverage when pandemic health coverage ended.

Channel 2 Action News reported in September that more than 150,000 people had been disenrolled.

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Becerra’s letter to Kemp said he was “deeply alarmed” at the state of healthcare coverage for children in need in Georgia. The letter wrote that the Peach State was among nine states with “the largest number or highest percentage of children who have lost Medicaid or CHIP coverage” since the spring unwinding process started.

Mentioning Georgia specifically, Becerra’s letter said “the 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming – have disenrolled more children than those that have expanded combined. In non-expansion states, youth who turned 19 while the continuous enrollment condition was in place are at risk of falling in the coverage gap and becoming uninsured; these youth on average account for 27.6% of disenrollments among children in non-expansion states since March 2023, compared to 12.1% of disenrollments in states that have expanded.”

In response to a request for comment regarding the letter from Becerra, the governor’s office provided a statement to Channel 2 Action News, saying that the administration of President Joe Biden had “missed an opportunity to urge families to fill out their paperwork,” and that the state had worked hard to make the process easier.

“We are following the process initiated and mandated by the Biden-Harris administration, which has once again missed an opportunity to urge families to fill out their paperwork. Georgia has taken considerable action to streamline processes; utilize innovations, Georgia-centric solutions, and waivers to benefit Medicaid recipients; and just today announced the use of $54 million to further that work as we partner with community-level stakeholders and medical service providers,” Garrison Douglas, a Kemp Spokesperson, said in part.


A state-operated healthcare enrollment program that started in summer 2023 was called Georgia Pathways. It was the first program of its kind, adding work requirements to allow eligible Georgians ages 19 to 64 to apply for medical coverage through the state. The program launched after the state started its unwinding process, where people who had received health benefits through pandemic-relief programs had to recertify their need or lose coverage.

The unwinding process has, from May to November, seen 1.24 million Georgians attempt to renew benefits. The same period of data showed 292,038 were automatically renewed and 105,529 were applied.

Another 246,586 renewals are still pending, while 447,242 were deemed ineligible or procedurally terminated, according to the most recent Georgia state data.

In October, Georgia reported that 1,343 people had enrolled in the Pathways program as of September, three months after the program launched.

State officials say that as of November 3, 2023, the total number of enrolled Pathways members in Georgia was 1,809. In data previously shared with Channel 2 Action News, officials said “The allotted budget for enrollment in Pathways for FY2024 could fund coverage for roughly 100,000 individuals.”

As it stands, less than 2% of the potential enrollment had occurred through November.

“We will continue working to educate Georgians about Pathways’ innovative, first-of-its-kind opportunity and enroll more individuals in the months to come,” Kemp’s office said in a statement in October.

While Becerra’s letter urged Georgia officials to take steps to ease renewals for children and families, including improving auto-renewal rates and expanding Medicaid, the governor’s office said the federal Department of Health and Human Services should instead join the state’s effort rather than undermine the work already being done.

“Rather than diminish the important work being done by dedicated and tireless caseworkers and pit states against one another, we hope Secretary Barrera joins us in our efforts to encourage families who are going through this federally initiated process to complete the paperwork required by the same federal process to remain covered,” Douglas’ statement continued.

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