CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has exceeded expectations in an area nearly half of states have yet to take up the challenge -- expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
More than 87,000 residents --70 percent of the roughly 130,000 eligible in the state -- have enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program, officials say.
Jeremiah Samples, assistant secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and representatives from Kentucky, Oregon and Washington presented their strategies for enrolling eligible citizens in Medicaid during a conference call sponsored by Families USA, the largest national organization representing health-care consumers.
Each state was chosen based on its relative success in Medicaid sign ups, according to Ron Pollack, Families USA's executive director.
"We think this is extraordinarily important because ultimately, enrollment in Medicaid on a national basis is going to be larger than those who are enrolling through the exchanges, despite the fact that half of states have still not decided to implement the Medicaid expansion," Pollack said.
According to Pollack, for most states, Medicaid expansion represents a huge widening in eligibility for low-income residents. Before opting into expanded Medicaid, a family of three in West Virginia had to make at or below 16 percent of the Federal Poverty Level each year, or about $3,124. Under the new guidelines, a family of three in the state can make as much as $26,951 and qualify.
Each speaker represented a primary health authority within their states, and each reported a higher-than-anticipated number of new enrollees.
Samples told the Gazette earlier this month that between the increase in private insurance enrollment and new enrollment in the state's Medicaid expansion, the number of uninsured West Virginians has dropped from 13.5 percent to 4.2 percent of the population.
"That number is about 25,000 higher than what the actuaries projected for all of calendar year 2014," Samples said. "We attribute this primarily to our auto-enrollment process."
While Oregon, Kentucky and Washington all opted into state-based insurance exchanges, Samples said state officials in West Virginia determined that option would be too costly, and instead opted into a "marketplace partnership" with the federal exchange. In the partnership, the state oversees assisting people with enrollment, including managing state websites, call centers and outreach initiatives, but the federal government is responsible for managing the marketplace and accepting applications.
While early glitches plaguing www.healthcare.gov have been fixed, Samples said a problem communicating the information of those eligible for Medicaid to the state has arisen, forcing the DHHR to get creative in getting people enrolled.