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Medicaid facing unprecedented strains amid pandemic, unemployment surge

As COVID-19 roils the economy and throws millions of Americans out of work, Medicaid is emerging as a default insurance plan for many of the newly unemployed (Source: “Medicaid Nearing ‘Eye of The Storm’ As Newly Unemployed Look For Coverage,” Kaiser Health News, April 3, 2020).

That could produce unprecedented strains on the vital health insurance program, according to state officials and policy researchers.

Americans are being urged to stay home and practice “social distancing” to prevent the spread of the virus, causing businesses to shutter their doors and lay off workers. The Labor Department reported Thursday that more than 6.6 million people signed up for unemployment insurance during the week that ended March 28. This number shattered the record set the previous week, with 3.3 million sign-ups. Many of these newly unemployed people may turn to Medicaid for their families.

Policymakers have often used Medicaid to help people gain health coverage and health care in response to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But never has it faced a public health crisis and economic emergency in which people nationwide need its help all in virtually the same month.