AKRON, Ohio (AP) — State data shows the number of children enrolled in Ohio's Medicaid program declined over a 15-month period, with nearly 37,000 fewer children enrolled as of May of this year, compared with February 2018.

Ohio had previously seen progress for nearly a decade in its efforts to make sure every child had health insurance, expanding Medicaid enrollment to more than 1.2 million children, the Akron Beacon Journal reported .

Child advocacy organizations including the Children's Defense Fund, the Ohio Poverty Law Center and Voices For Ohio's Children have raised alarms about the decline and are urging the state to investigate, according to the newspaper. They also are urging the state to simplify a Medicaid re-enrollment process that can be difficult, particularly for those in poverty.

Akron Children's Hospital CEO Emeritus Bill Considine says some children "are falling through the cracks and not getting medical care that they are entitled to get."

Brandi Slaughter, project manager for Voices for Ohio's Children, said children "do better when their health needs are met."

"Families have greater stability when they are not choosing between paying their utilities and doctors appointments," she said.

Maureen Corcoran took over this year as state director of the Department of Medicaid. She says her team is reviewing the numbers and working to improve state outreach to enrollees.

"There's no question we need to do more," Corcoran said.

Lori Jensen, a certified application counselor at AxessPointe Community Health Center in Barberton, says the Medicaid enrollment process is complicated, and the re-enrollment process also can be a hindrance. She helps people apply for health insurance, usually through the state-run Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

Some people don't understand the renewal paperwork they receive in the mail, while others don't receive the paperwork because they moved one or more times in the last year. Those who don't know within 60 days that they have lost their insurance have to start over with a new application.

Also, federal funding for people who can help the public enroll in health insurance has declined in the last three years.

The Affordable Care Act created jobs for "navigators," federally funded workers who helped people enroll in a marketplace plan or Medicaid. Ohio received $1.9 million for the navigators in 2016, compared with only $82,360 the next year, although that funding increased somewhat to more than $316,000 for 2018, according to the newspaper

Ohioans currently can fill out their Medicaid paperwork online, but the state can't send people their information in an email, making it more difficult to reach people who move frequently.

Corcoran said she's working to bring the program's systems into the "modern era."

"We do have an active effort going on right now to focus on this from both a system point of view and from a human point of view," Corcoran said.

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This story has been corrected to show that fewer children were enrolled over a 15-month period, not over the past 15 months.

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Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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