The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 21, 2014

Medicaid Expansion: 87,000 eligible residents enrolled

According to Department of Health and Human Services

— According to West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, over 87,000 residents have been enrolled for health care coverage through the Medicaid Expansion.

Jeremiah Samples, assistant secretary for the DHHS, said that number is about 70 percent of everyone eligible for the expansion.  

Samples discussed West Virginia’s enrollment numbers and strategies during a Families USA teleconference Thursday, along with health care officials from Oregon, Washington and Kentucky.

“West Virginia conducted extensive research, both on a state-based exchange and the expansion of Medicaid,” Samples said.

Officials decided that a state-based exchange would have been too costly given the state’s small population and high insurance premiums.

He said West Virginia’s insurance premiums are the sixth-highest in the country, and as residents know all too well, the state is one of the least healthy.

“We’re the second oldest state and one of the highest tobacco users in the nation. With all of those factors, our governor decided for West Virginia to be a Marketplace user.”

The neighboring state of Kentucky, however, opted to use an exchange, which was dubbed “kynect.”

Erin Hoben, chief policy advisor at Kentucky’s Department of Medicaid Services, said outreach activities for kynect were hosted by a long-standing organization called Community Action Network, with which state residents were already familiar.

“We wanted to make sure it was someone the community already trusted.”

Hoben said Kentucky’s goal was to make the process as simple as possible; they utilized ads on television, radio and social media with the tagline, “Affordable Health Coverage for Every Kentuckian.”

Of 640,000 uninsured residents, 231,000 Kentuckians have now been enrolled through the expansion, and Hoben expects that number to be up to 250,000 by the end of the month.

West Virginia’s population is considerably smaller than Kentucky though, 1.8 million compared to 4.3 million.

Samples said West Virginia took an aggressive approach for enrollment after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin approved the expansion in early May 2013.

“It was estimated that West Virginia would be able to sign up 63,000 customers in 2014 and 90,000 by 2016.”

The total estimated number of West Virginians eligible for coverage under the expansion is 130,000, according to Samples.

After receiving approval for the waiver for automatic enrollment in mid-August, Samples said the state worked to identify consumers who would be eligible, such as recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and parents of children who are enrolled in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

During the initial identification phase, the state found 118,000 eligible consumers. Letters were then distributed to consumers, asking them to return the letter if they wanted to enroll. Recipients were provided an envelope with the mailing address already applied.

“As we developed these strategies, we wanted to streamline the bureaucratic process for consumers.”

Anyone who did not return the letters received a follow up call from county workers or enrollment assisters. An additional round of letters was sent out in September after another 15,000 residents had since signed up for SNAP or CHIP.

“We had approximately 70,000 enrollments from this process alone, which is very substantial for a state of our size,” Samples said.

By Feb. 13, a total of 87,135 people have enrolled, which Samples said is about 25,000 more than the projected number for 2014.

“We attribute that to the auto-enroll process. It’s really served us well here in West Virginia.”

This teleconference was hosted by Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers. This organization is non-profit and nonpartisan. Its mission is to secure high-quality, affordable health coverage and care for all Americans.

Executive Director of Families USA Rot Pollack noted that the March 31 deadline does not apply to anyone eligible for Medicaid.

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