By Ann Sanner
COLUMBUS: Low-income Ohioans who are newly eligible for Medicaid under an expansion of the program can sign up for health coverage beginning Dec. 9, state officials said Wednesday.
Officials estimate roughly 366,000 Ohioans may qualify for the expanded coverage, including those who tried to enroll earlier but discovered they didn’t qualify under current Medicaid rules.
Gov. John Kasich’s administration moved forward last month to extend the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled. But it was unclear until now when people could enroll. Coverage begins Jan. 1.
The federal health-care law expanded Medicaid to those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $15,856 for an individual or $32,499 for a family of four. Its main beneficiaries are expected to be low-income adults with no children living at home.
Some residents previously tried to get health insurance and discovered they didn’t qualify under current Medicaid rules and didn’t earn what would qualify them for tax subsidies to purchase insurance in the new insurance marketplace. That led groups such as the Ohio Association of Foodbanks to collect the names and numbers of prospective enrollees, so they could be reminded to apply when the state was ready to start signing people up.
So far, more than 1,250 people are on a call-back list assembled by the food bank group and its partners, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the association. Her organization is among a consortium of groups that is walking people through the new marketplaces, also known as exchanges.
At the county offices where many low-income residents apply for food stamps, cash assistance and other social services, workers are encouraging those who could be newly eligible under Medicaid expansion to reapply to the program, said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services county directors’ association.
“People are in a strange limbo,” Potts said. “Until we get it up and running, there’s nothing we can do.”
He said the offices are bracing for the newly eligible to sign up in waves.
“Healthy people don’t rush to sign up for health care,” he said. “I do think we will see a significant uptake, but I don’t think you’re going to see beating the doors down.”
The Supreme Court gave states the right to opt out of the expansion, which is fully financed by Washington for the first three years, gradually phasing down to a 90 percent federal share. Ohio is one of 25 states and the District of Columbia that have decided to go with the expanded Medicaid program.
The Kasich administration got authority to spend the federal money on the extended Medicaid program through a powerful legislative panel on Oct. 21, bypassing the full legislature.
Greg Moody, the director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation, said he believed people would have enough time to get enrolled before coverage begins in the new year.
The state picked the date to allow county workers to be trained, to test the state’s system and to ensure its connections with the federal system are working properly, he said. The goal is for most Medicaid applications to be completed online, though county case managers will likely have to resolve many cases at the beginning.
The state is also relying on consumer advocates and health plans to spread the word that people can start signing up.
“For folks who are eligible, we are doing everything we can to help them find their way to coverage,” Moody said.