By Perry Bryant
We all have heard endlessly about the shortcoming of the Obamacare web site, healthcare.gov. The difficulties that this web site initially encountered, however, have drowned out the hugely successful enrollment in the Medicaid expansion program.
In three months, 83,000 low-income West Virginians have gained health insurance coverage through the expanded Medicaid program. If all of these individuals had been previously uninsured, and there is no way to verify that yet, it would mean more than a one-third reduction in the number of uninsured West Virginians over a three month period. This is a remarkable accomplishment that has largely gone unheralded.
Here's how so many West Virginians got coverage and how the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) became a national leader in enrollment.
Last August, the DHHR sent 118,000 letters to SNAP (food stamps) recipients and others thought to be eligible for Medicaid. The letter basically said, "If you want to be automatically enrolled into Medicaid beginning January 1, 2014, sign this letter and return it to us." Most importantly, the local DHHR employees made follow-up phone calls to many of the 118,000 people.
These state employees, who are frequently but inaccurately maligned as lazy and ineffective, all had full-time jobs before someone came along and told them to make thousands and thousands of phone calls. But they rose to the challenge and got the job done. The first round of letters and follow-up phone calls was so successful, the DHHR sent a second round of letters to people who didn't respond to the first letter and to others who might be eligible. The local DHHR employees made a second round of follow-up phone calls to many of the 80,000 people on the second mailing list.
As a result of this effort, 71,200 low-income West Virginians signed and sent their letters back to the DHHR and will be automatically enrolled into Medicaid beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Another 11,700 West Virginians were enrolled either through the DHHR web site, inRoads.org, or by stopping by a local DHHR office. Their coverage also begins Jan. 1.