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New initiative helps Pittsburghers apply for health insurance at laundromats

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Doing laundry at a laundromat can take hours. So why not sign up for health insurance while waiting for your clothes to dry?

“You’re sitting there, with nothing to do. It’s just a great chunk of time that we’ve identified that we’re able to reach people,” said Rachael Herbert-Nalevanko, a Pittsburgh outreach coordinator for Fabric Health. The Philadelphia-based organization connects laundromat patrons with support services such as SNAP benefits and assistance with energy bills.

Fabric Health comes to Pittsburgh laundromats at a time when 3.6 million Pennsylvanians insured through Medicaid are at risk of losing their coverage. Due to the end of COVID-19-era policies, Pennsylvanians on Medicaid must re-enroll in the public health insurance program for the first time since spring 2020.

More than half of the people with whom Fabric Health staffers speak say they have Medicaid insurance, explains the company’s co-founder Allister Chang. Yet most don’t know that they’re about to lose this coverage.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services estimates 617,000 people are no longer eligible for Medicaid: For many, it’s because their income now exceeds the program’s limits. These Pennsylvanians have the option of purchasing coverage on Pennie, the state-based insurance exchange.

according to the Coin Laundry Association, the median household income for a regular self-service laundry customer is less than $30,000 per year, meaning that many laundromat patrons are either Medicaid-eligible or qualify for no-cost or low-cost Pennie insurance.

For uninsured laundromat customers, Fabric Health employees connect them to UPMC for You or UPMC for Kids, the health insurer’s managed care plans for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Or they’re directed to purchase insurance on Pennie, which UPMC also sells.

Fabric Health is at laundromats in Mount Washington and Shadyside in Pittsburgh, as well as Edgewood, South Park Township and West Mifflin. It may expand to other facilities around the Pittsburgh area later this year.