JEFFERSON CITY — Forty-three thousand: That’s how many Missouri children have lost health care with Medicaid over the past year. Lawmakers have been looking for reasons why such a thing could have happened, especially to the state’s most vulnerable population.

On Tuesday, the Department of Social Services defended how it handles applications and annual recertification for the health care program for low-income Missourians. In a nutshell, officials said children were removed from the program because the families didn’t qualify or parents didn’t fill out necessary forms.

Jennifer Tidball, acting director of Social Services, said because of the transient nature of the low-income population, contacting these families about change in their coverage can be difficult, but it is ultimately up to the family to keep everything updated.

“You have to maintain accurate information with us, like your most recent address,” Tidball said. “If you don’t, we can’t connect with you.”

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, said the department bears some responsibility, too.

“I think the state has defaulted to removing children from Medicaid because the parent doesn’t qualify,” Lavender said. “We end up removing the children, but then we blame the parents for not putting them back on, and I think that is not appropriate for us to do as a state. ... Why are we blaming parents when we’ve defaulted to kicking kids off?”

The debate took place before the Subcommittee on Appropriations — Health, Mental Health and Social Services.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said the number of children on Medicaid is closer to what the numbers were like in 2013. He said the economy has contributed to the fluctuation. Essentially, when the economy is good, fewer people are on Medicaid; and when the economy is bad, there are more.

“There have been a lot headlines made about how many children have been kicked off the rolls in the last year,” Wood said, “but we don’t spend a lot of time going back far enough to talk about how those numbers actually increased in the first place.”

Like the department, Wood placed some of the blame for children losing insurance on parents not taking the extra steps to keep their information up to date.

“There is a certain amount of parent responsibility and individual responsibility to know what is available and fill out those applications,” Wood said. “It’s not the government’s responsibility to go out and find these people.”

Supervising editor is Virginia Young.

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