Roughly 23,000 Ohioans enroll in expanded Medicaid

ANN SANNER Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- More than 23,000 low-income Ohioans enrolled in Medicaid last month under an expansion of the taxpayer-funded program supported by Republican Gov. John Kasich.

That's about 6 percent of the roughly 366,000 residents who the state projected would be newly eligible for coverage by the end of June 2015.

The state's monthly report on Medicaid caseloads does not include those who have applied to the health program for the poor and disabled. But the numbers released Monday provide the first glimpse as to how many people have successfully enrolled under the expansion. The report shows 23,156 residents have obtained coverage so far.

Kasich's administration moved forward with extending Medicaid eligibility last fall under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Coverage took effect Jan. 1.

The expansion allowed those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to gain coverage. For a single adult, that's about $16,104 a year.

A number of potential enrollees could be in limbo. More than 90,000 Medicaid applications that Ohioans submitted through the federal website, HealthCare.gov, have yet to be sent to the state for processing, the state says.

Groups helping to sign people up for health insurance under the federal law say they expect Medicaid enrollment for the expanded group to climb in the coming months.

"It's going to be substantially higher," said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. "Based on the numbers we've seen, I've got to believe that that number is pressing six figures at this point."

She said about 70 percent of those seeking help with health insurance from the association and its partners are eligible for Medicaid, while the rest are able to buy health plans through the new insurance marketplace.

"We're still seeing folks who would have already been eligible before the expansion took place," Hamler-Fugitt said in an interview.

Medicaid covers about one of every five Ohioans.

Potential enrollees can start their Medicaid applications online through a new state website without having to visit county offices, where many low-income residents apply for food stamps, cash assistance and other social services. It's expected to help cut the processing time, though county caseworkers must still verify data on most applications.

The state's Department of Medicaid declined to say whether the expansion enrollment numbers are what the agency expected. But Sam Rossi, a spokesman for the department said the website is working properly and directing those who are eligible to health coverage.

While county offices don't have people lining up outside their doors, they are handling a lot of Medicaid applications, said Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services county directors' association.

Potts said the expansion enrollment numbers were reflective of what caseworkers have seen.

"While there are a lot of people who continue to be eligible who haven't applied yet," he said, "I think as circumstances dictate over the next year, when they need to see a doctor, we'll see them."