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Medicaid eligibility expansion extending benefits in Ohio

By John Arthur Hutchison, The News-Herald, Willoughby, Ohio
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 03--Ohioans continue to sign up for Medicaid benefits that became available to more people as of Jan. 1, according to county and state figures.

Michelle Herron, assistant program administrator in the public assistance division for the Lake County Job and Family Services Department, said people in Ohio who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level are now eligible to receive Medicaid benefits. Herron said that's equal to a gross monthly income of $1,321 per individual per month.

Ohio'sMedicaid program grew to extend benefits to more qualifying adults and for years, the program has existed for children, some eligible families, pregnant women, the blind or disabled. Because of the expansion, it will help some single adults and parents who did not qualify for benefits that children received.

About 2.4 million Ohioans rely on Medicaid for health care. Based on projections, the expansion would add another 275,000 Ohioans to Medicaid health care coverage, said John Palmer, director of public affairs for the Ohio Hospital Association.

Palmer also cited the Ohio Medicaid Expansion Study, an independent report compiled last year by the Health Foundation of Cincinnati, the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation and the George Gund Foundation.

"The coverage effects of Medicaid expansion will be felt in every Ohio county," the report concluded. "Each county will have more people being covered through Medicaid and fewer people who are uninsured."

The report predicted the greatest numbers of people added would come from the most populous counties. The counties of southeast Ohio and Clark County also were predicted to have the largest new enrollment.

"I think the people who have gotten their coverage are incredibly happy," said Amanda Jones, training officer for the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services. The program also is rewarding for the social workers, she said.

"Now all of those people that for years we've been saying no, no, no, no, no, there's nothing for you -- there's finally something for them," Jones said. "That's been nice."

Carrie Dotson, executive director for Painesville-based Lifeline, which is the community action agency for Lake County, said Medicaid expansion has allowed her agency to eliminate an eye care assistance program because clients are now eligible for assistance through Medicaid.

Lifeline client programs for prescription assistance and diabetic supplies no longer will need federal grant dollars to pay for a portion of the costs because there will be less demand for these services since more people have health insurance, Dotson said.

"We, of course, were thrilled about the expansion because more of our clients will have health care," she said. "We have a lot of clients who don't work because they're not healthy and when you don't have insurance you don't have a primary care physician, so they don't have preventative care. Hopefully they can get back to work or school or whatever they want to do."

Lifeline employees also have been trained to help provide clients assistance to apply online for Medicaid, Dotson said.

The first official monthly report for enrollment is due in mid-February, said Sam Rossi, Ohio Department of Medicaid communications director.

Ohio Medicaid launched its website, http://benefits.ohio.gov, and sign-ups began Dec. 9. Through Jan. 22, there were 54,420 new applications from Ohio, with 20,338 approved so far and 3,900 denied, according to state figures. The other applications remain pending.

Lake County has had about 1,110 applications since Dec. 9, Herron said. She said about 80 percent of those meet eligibility requirements and are approved.

There were national headlines in the last quarter of 2013 when people encountered difficulties signing up for health insurance through the new https://www.healthcare.gov/ website.

Operations in Ohio'sMedicaid benefit portal, http://benefits.ohio.gov/, have gone fairly well, Rossi said.

"We've had a pretty smooth start," he said. "We're not immune to glitches by any means, but we're confident we'll be able to handle this expeditiously."

Some Ohioans have applied for Medicaid on www.healthcare.gov. But the officials noted the federal network has not yet sent the Ohio applications to the Ohio network for review, and in December, applicants who used the federal site were notified it would be quicker for them to apply for Medicaid through http://benefits.ohio.gov/.

"Most people apply online," Shope said. "It's the easiest way and it's what we recommend."

Eventually www.healthcare.gov will interface with state networks so if someone applies for Medicaid using the federal site, the application will be transferred to Ohio, and if an Ohioan applies for Medicaid on the state site but is ineligible, they will be referred to the federal site, the officials said.

The transition has caused some frustration, but some entities such as community health centers, faith-based groups, local health departments and hospitals also are making efforts to educate people, said Mary Wachtel, senior health policy associate at the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

"Any time there's a program that comes online, there's always a ramp-up period," Wachtel said. "That's why the message really is, if Medicaid's for you, go to benefits.ohio.gov."

___

(c)2014 The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio)

Visit The News-Herald (Willoughby, Ohio) at www.news-herald.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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