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Government/Politics

Democrats warn many Medicaid recipients in Ohio could lose coverage soon

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Dan Konik
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in the Medicaid program grew significantly as Ohio families lost income due to business closures or the inability to work due to the lack of access to affordable child care.

In that time, states like Ohio that wanted to keep federal funding were required to provide continuous coverage for Medicaid enrollees until the end of the month in which the public health emergency ends — that's set for July.

It was part of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). But now, as the pandemic becomes an endemic, attention is turning to the future of Ohio's Medicaid program and what new determinations for eligibility, which are set by the state, will look like.

In Ohio, about a quarter of the population, or about 3.3 million Ohioans, rely on Medicaid coverage. That's up from 2.78 million Ohioans on Medicaid in February 2020. Once the federal government ends the public health emergency status in July, new rules about who can receive coverage will apply.

The Center for Community Solutions estimates somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Ohioans could lose Medicaid coverage at that point. They fear elderly, disabled Ohioans, and children could be hurt the most by this redetermination process.

State and federal leaders plan to make new rules for eligibility for Medicaid recipients within the next two or three months. Because of a provision passed in the state budget last year, Ohio plans to use an outside vendor that will automatically make Medicaid redeterminations.

Democratic lawmakers are concerned about that process and caution guardrails are needed to make sure vulnerable Ohioans are not kicked out of the system.

Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) said Medicaid has been a lifeline for Ohioans during the pandemic.

"We have moved so many mountains and been able to protect people that needed care," West told Statehouse reporters Thursday afternoon.

He said he fears people who have been on Medicaid and are working will suddenly find themselves ineligible once the redeterminations are complete. He said part of that process needs to include hiring people who can help Medicaid recipients navigate through the complicated system.

"I am a big advocate right now for us being able to put feet on the street and get people the help they need to maintain their coverage and/or move on to a different coverage," West said.

Sen. Tina Maharath (D-Canal Winchester) agreed with West. She said Medicaid has served to reduce income inequality, particularly when it comes to reducing racial disparities.

She said, "An increase in Medicaid access is the single, most-important action available today to expand the coverage and reduce those racial inequalities in the American health care system."

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