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Medicaid Recipients Say Ohio Benefit System Needs Work

Ohio's Medicaid program, which provides health insurance for more than 2.8 million low-income residents, doesn’t work for everyone, according to a recent survey.

The system isn’t easy to access online and wait times are long, said Jessie Herzfeld, a self-employed artist who receives Medicaid benefits and participated in the study.

“Everything, every year, has been really frustrating and stressful,” Herzfeld said.

But this year has been especially hard for Herzfeld and many others. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed offices, leaving beneficiaries with fewer options for talking with staff.

Wait times are a common complaint, but people are typically patient with the system, said Hope Lane, policy associate at the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions, one of the organizations involved in the survey.

However, often after waiting for an hour or more, benefits recipients encounter staff who are rude and reinforce stigmas related to Medicaid, Lane said.

“People on the phone, you can’t see them, so they just feel more, I guess, empowered to be rude,” Lane said.

The survey was conducted to help bring about change in the legislature and make sure taxpayer dollars are spent on a system that works best for Ohioans, she said.

Ohio’s Medicaid enrollments were steady in early 2020, but after March, began climbing — in Cuyahoga County alone, recipients went from about 382,000 in March to 415,000 in October. The uptick is because so many people lost their jobs in the pandemic, said Center for Community Solutions’ Medicaid Policy Director Loren Anthes.

“A lot of folks lost their employer-sponsored coverage, or they may not have been able to maintain the same hours, so Medicaid has been that backstop for them so they can maintain continuity with their doctors, be able to afford prescriptions, that sort of thing,” he said.

Medicaid has helped the hospital industry because it allows for payments even when patients have lost health insurance through their employer, Anthes said.

Hospitals are typically thought of as recession-proof, but the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown has hurt hospitals too, especially with cutbacks to elective surgeries and other services not related to fighting COVID-19.

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