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Families who were suddenly dropped from Medicaid seek reinstatement

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

More than 1 million people have lost their Medicaid coverage since April. It's part of something called Medicaid unwinding. And it's happening because states had to keep people enrolled in this insurance program for low-income people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Those protections expired in March. From member station WLRN in Miami, Verónica Zaragovia reports...

VERÓNICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: Most people who lost their Medicaid coverage in Florida didn't know they needed to submit paperwork to confirm their eligibility. Shirley Dominguez helps people get insured through her job as a navigator with Epilepsy Alliance Florida. She says that's why the Department of Children and Families, or DCF, purged a lot of people from its Medicaid rolls.

SHIRLEY DOMINGUEZ: They couldn't verify a home address. They couldn't verify the household size, or they couldn't verify a phone number.

ZARAGOVIA: Dominguez worries about those who are now uninsured but still qualify while this gets straightened out.

DOMINGUEZ: People that have multiple illnesses have been dropped. People that are disabled have been dropped just because of these procedural errors.

ZARAGOVIA: Alison Yager directs the Florida Health Justice Project.

ALISON YAGER: If we're seeing 80% of terminations were procedural, there's something wrong.

ZARAGOVIA: She spoke at a recent conference in central Florida on this topic known as the Medicaid unwinding.

YAGER: Let's pause and figure out what's not working and proceed when we're ready and sure that the damage is going to be significantly less.

ZARAGOVIA: The Biden administration has sent letters to governors urging states to take another month and do more outreach to Medicaid recipients losing their coverage. A spokesperson for Florida DCF said the state has sent text messages, emails and snail mail and also called people to alert them. Nonprofits and advocates say DCF is understaffed, and its employees are working hard to help. But they say the outreach has fallen short.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Almost 1 million Floridians are falling into a new post-COVID Medicaid cancellation. And if you don't act now, you may lose your health care coverage completely. But...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

ZARAGOVIA: The Epilepsy Alliance Florida sponsored these radio commercials to help. Vanessa Brito, a community activist in Miami, posts tutorial videos on her Facebook page, which has 33,000 followers.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

VANESSA BRITO: And I wanted to just give you an easy, quick tutorial on how to figure it out on your own if I'm not available or I don't see your comments or questions...

ZARAGOVIA: People post requests for help on her page.

BRITO: I'm getting people that are either going to the doctor or going to the pharmacy to pick up their refill for a medication, and they're being told, oh, well, your Medicaid is no longer active.

ZARAGOVIA: One of her followers on Facebook, Melissa, asked us not to use her last name. She worries speaking on this could affect her employment. She lives near Cape Canaveral, and her children recently lost Medicaid. She says she never heard from DCF about it.

MELISSA: I just happened to know to look because Vanessa had posted something.

ZARAGOVIA: Melissa's daughter needs expensive medication for diabetes. Her son has a condition that causes an erratic heartbeat. Melissa works a contract job in nursing that has no benefits, but gives her flexible hours in case her son needs hospitalization. She's frustrated with the time it's taking to get this fixed.

MELISSA: Does it seem fair for the working people who are barely getting by? It doesn't. And then you take away the one thing that they need - health care. How are we going to be healthy enough to continue working?

ZARAGOVIA: Florida officials have not yet said if they will be pausing the Medicaid unwinding. For NPR News, I'm Verónica Zaragovia in Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Verónica Zaragovia