CHARLESTON — As West Virginians lose their jobs, more may turn to the state/federal health insurance program Medicaid to obtain health care during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

During a virtual news conference Thursday, officials with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced several new measures to help low- or no-income West Virginians pay for health care with Medicaid. Some Medicaid patients refer to Medicaid, which is for low-income people, as their “medical card.”

DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch announced that testing and treatment for uninsured people will be covered by Medicaid. In a news release, Jeremy Smith, program director for West Virginia Navigator, added that those who’ve lost jobs and who have also lost health insurance can sign up for Medicaid.

WV Navigator receives federal funding to assist consumers with enrolling in Medicaid or in private health insurance through provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

West Virginia residents can call 1-844-WV-CARES or 304-356-5834 for assistance. WV Navigator is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. More information is available at

During the virtual news conference, Crouch also said Medicaid patients can now be tested for the respiratory illness without requiring prior approval from the insurance provider.

Medicaid is also allowing psychological services to be rendered through telehealth, according to DHHR’s website, and is no longer requiring people using medication to treat addiction to participate in counseling as a condition of receiving those medications.

West Virginia Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said WorkForce West Virginia has processed 41,000 unemployment claims since the governor’s order on March 19, when bars and restaurants closed in West Virginia. Gov. Jim Justice ordered all non-essential businesses to close Tuesday.

Also Thursday, DHHR’s commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, Dr. Cathy Slemp, announced that people on the state’s SNAP program, sometimes referred to as food stamps, who were up for renewal will be automatically renewed for three months.

She said DHHR is applying with the federal government to expand SNAP to college students and for supplemental benefits for existing SNAP households.

Slemp said beginning Wednesday, DHHR rolled out a program to provide child care for essential workers. The email address for those agencies wanting to apply to provide child care is

DHHR had previously encouraged day cares not to close. Slemp said Thursday that day cares should now be reserved for children of essential workers. In a memo to child care providers this week, DHHR ordered those day cares to close this week. The memo also states that essential workers are eligible for assistance with child care and should contact their local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency to apply.

In The Register-Herald region, that agency is MountainHeart Community Services. The number is 1-800-834-7082.

Crouch also announced Thursday that Medicaid is allowing “non-emergent” services to be rendered through telehealth, even through only audio. DHHR didn’t respond to a question Thursday about whether only COVID-19 related services or other health services would be covered.

He also provided numbers for the the HELP4WV addiction and mental health hotline: 1-844-435-7498, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, and The Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990, for people experiencing emotional distress.

Gaunch said for the quickest handling of unemployment claims, people should call 1-800-252-JOBS. He noted that those who apply late in the week might not receive benefits the next week, but instead would receive them the following week.

He said the state development office is working to become a clearinghouse to help affected employers and workers apply for federal benefits when they become available.

The governor announced Clay Marsh, the vice president and executive dean of health sciences at West Virginia University, was “on loan” from WVU to serve as the state’s coronavirus czar.

He urged anyone coming from hot-spot areas out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days.

He said fishing would be allowed without a license for 30 days.

Email: and follow on Twitter @3littleredbones

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