HARRISBURG, Pa. (WENY) - Today, advocates with Put People First PA rallied for an end to Medicaid cuts. They want the state to step up for those who have been kicked off Medicaid as a result of the continuous enrollment period expiring on Mar 31. 

Advocates spent the day singing and chanting around the Capitol Complex to push healthcare access for all. 

“We kind of wanted to put a fun spin on coming to Harrisburg, which sometimes can be intimidating for folks,” said Nijmie Dzurinko, the Co-Founder of Put People First PA.  

Their message for policy makers is simple: stop the Medicaid cuts. 

“Medicaid is important to me because if I don't have this tool, I wouldn't be here. We demand no cuts to Medicaid and expand Medicaid to all Pennsylvania residents,” said Shawn Kneisley. 

Medicaid is a federal program but is administered at the state level. The continuous coverage or enrollment period, established under the Cares Act, protected enrollees from being kicked off Medicaid during the COVID-19 health emergency. But that period ended on Mar 31. Since then, over 15,000 Pennsylvanians were found ineligible for Medicaid either because of information in their renewal or because they did not return a renewal, per the Dept. of Human Services (DHS). 

Dzurinko says between 1.2 and 1.3 million Pennsylvanians could be impacted.  

“1.2 million people is a lot of folks losing their health care. Why does that have to be? We understand that the money was coming from the federal government, but we also have an $8 billion surplus in Pennsylvania right now. We don't think there's anything more important that that money could be used for than keeping people on their health care,” said Dzurinko. “No one who's currently on Medicaid should lose it because of this so-called unwinding,” she added. 

But paying for roughly 1.3 million ineligible Medicaid recipients is a big no-go for many Republicans.  

“It makes absolutely no sense to continue to do that. Number one, they're not eligible. They're not eligible to receive benefits under federal and state law,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York). 

Despite today’s songs and jingles, Grove, who serves as Republican Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, stands firm against Medicaid spending on those who are no longer eligible. 

“You shouldn't add ineligible people back on to government programs it's not right and it's not fair to use that money for ineligible people. You're taking money away from people that actually need it- the most vulnerable,” said Grove. “The faster the Department of Human Services does redetermination, the faster they remove ineligible people, the more savings we have,” Grove added. 

Advocates also called for a Commonwealth public health advocate and a restoration of adult dental benefits in Medicaid. They say there is more the state can do, like extending the appeal process. 

"There are state level decisions that we can make. Some of the things we are demanding is a longer period to file appeals. As you heard from some of the speakers, they got a notice that their Medicaid was being cut and they had a week to file an appeal. That's very difficult,” said Dzurinko. 

Pennsylvanians who are no longer eligible for Medicaid can explore other sources of affordable coverage like CHIP and Pennie, Pennsylvania’s official health insurance marketplace.