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Medicaid's pandemic-related protections are ending and that's creating problems


The public health emergency for COVID is officially over, and that presents a massive challenge for Medicaid, which covers 1 in 5 Americans. Every single one of them will now have to be found and reenrolled or lose that insurance. And the clock is ticking. Reporter Farah Yousry explains that in Indianapolis, Black churches have jumped in to try and help the government quickly find the most vulnerable patients before they become uninsured.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello, hello, hello.

FARAH YOUSRY, BYLINE: On a recent Saturday at Broadway Church near downtown Indianapolis, they put up a big inflatable castle for the kids. There were burgers and hot dogs and music.

SHONDA NICOLE GLADDEN: People are painting faces. We love to see it (laughter).

YOUSRY: That's Reverend Shonda Nicole Gladden. She stands out front with a microphone.

GLADDEN: You could be at risk of losing your benefits. We need you to come inside right now. Learn more about the crisis.

YOUSRY: If you were on Medicaid during the pandemic, you stayed on Medicaid. States stopped checking eligibility or requiring paperwork. But now those COVID-related protections have expired, and up to 24 million people nationwide could lose their health insurance. Some may lose Medicaid because they got a new job or a raise that makes them ineligible. But millions could unintentionally get lost in the complicated Medicaid bureaucracy and lose their insurance even if they still qualify. Reverend Gladden worries many in the Black community may slip through the cracks if Indiana mails them paperwork that they never get.

GLADDEN: With COVID-19, you know, a lot of people were displaced, and a lot of things changed for people. But Medicaid doesn't have that information necessarily. So if they've moved and they have a new address, they won't get the notification.

YOUSRY: Broadway and three other local churches are working with the regional hospital system to get the word out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: So either you're going to be automatically...

YOUSRY: All the action is down in the church's basement. That's where attorneys and Medicaid navigators have set up information tables. People could also get their blood pressure checked or even a COVID vaccine. The idea is to meet people where they are, Gladden says.

GLADDEN: Sometimes, particularly in the Black community, it's a little taboo to talk about things like this. They're not coming up saying, I'm really stressed about this. But they will show up and just soak in the information.

YOUSRY: Ohioma Ndubuaku (ph) showed up at the church's basement later. She has several health problems and uses a walker because of her arthritis.

OHIOMA NDUBUAKU: I have arthritis, diabetic, and I have some kidney problems.

YOUSRY: Medicaid helps cover many of her health bills, and she's terrified of losing it. She says Social Security just isn't enough to cover the day-to-day basics.

NDUBUAKU: With what Social Security is paying, it cannot pay for my loan, pay for my rent and pay for any other thing.

YOUSRY: An insurance broker tries to show Ndubuaku an online portal where she can check if the Medicaid agency has sent her any notices. But she says she does not have a computer and can barely navigate the internet on her phone. Her situation shows precisely why churches and clinics and food banks will all need to help people navigate this complicated process. That's according to David Craig, a professor at nearby Indiana University, who's helping the churches do outreach.

DAVID CRAIG: We've got a five-alarm bell ringing, and it's going to be ringing a lot louder a year from now.

YOUSRY: A year from now is when nearly 400,000 people in Indiana alone are expected to lose their Medicaid coverage.

For NPR News, I'm Farah Yousry in Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Farah Yousry

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