Medicaid expansion opens for enrollment

The launch of a new online enrollment system for newly eligible Medicaid applicants drew at least 500 Ohioans to the website Monday, state Medicaid officials said.

That was a small fraction of the estimated 275,000 Ohioans — including about 114,000 people in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield metropolitan areas — expected to gain coverage next year under new income and eligibility requirements.

Beginning Jan. 1, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will extend Medicaid to anyone with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four — in states that choose to adopt expansion of the federal-state health program for the poor.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave states the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion. But Gov. John Kasich moved forward with expansion in October, despite the opposition of mostly Republican state legislators who are challenging expansion in the Ohio Supreme Court.

Visitors on day one of enrollment were able to enter income and other eligibility requirements and begin the application process. But the website will not offer one-stop shopping for Medicaid coverage as planned until connections to a new federal eligibility system at have been fully tested and deemed reliable, said Sam Rossi, communications director for the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

Ohio’s system is designed to communicate with the federal eligibility system, but some connections have been put on hold until data-transfer problems have been fixed, Rossi said.

“We got the ball rolling, and we’re ready on our end. We are just hopeful they can square things away on their end,” he said, referring to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials responsible for the federal website.

The federal website, where consumers can find out whether they’re eligible for Medicaid or private, government-subsidized health coverage through the health care marketplace, continues to be plagued by technological problems that have stymied enrollment in both programs.

Thousands of people have been prevented from signing up for Medicaid because of insufficient or corrupted data being sent from the federal website to state Medicaid offices, government officials recently acknowledged.

Until those problems are fixed, Ohioans applying for Medicaid benefits through the website will be referred to county case managers, Rossi said. The case managers will be responsible for entering applicants’ information into the Ohio Integrated Eligibility System to determine their eligibility and complete the application process, he said.

As a result, county offices — where many low-income residents apply for food stamps, cash assistance and other social services — have been preparing for an onslaught of newly eligible Medicaid applicants.

About 29,000 Montgomery County residents — mostly low-income adults with no children living at home — will become newly-eligible for Medicaid under the federal health care law, according to the Montgomery County Department of Job & Family Services, which has 130 employees to assist in the Medicaid application process.

About 65 Medicaid applicants walked through the department’s doors on Monday, more than three times the total number of applicants in the previous three months, said Dwayne Woods, Montgomery County Job & Family services manager.

“There has been a pretty significant uptick in applications as a result of expansion,” according to Woods, who said most applications would be finalized within 30 days.

Ohio is one of 25 states and the District of Columbia that have decided to expand Medicaid.

Expansion would be fully financed by the federal government for the first three years, with Ohio receiving more than $2.5 billion in federal aid to help cover the expansion over the next two years as a result of Kasich’s actions.

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