By Dan Heyman, WVNS
An early call to sign up under the state’s expanded Medicaid program has brought a huge and immediate response, and it is similar to what is being seen in other states.
Jeremiah Samples is the assistant to the cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. He said the agency looked in its files to see which clients in other programs might have incomes low enough to now qualify for health care. They sent letters three weeks ago, and in less then a month they have gotten back more than 40,000 requests to enroll – nearly half the total they hope to enroll over the next three years, he said.
“We are pleasantly surprised by the amount we’ve received,” Samples said. “To have already identified and enrolled 45,000 folks, before the process really even begins, we’re that much farther ahead of the game.”
Several other states are seeing a similarly strong demand.
Dee Mahan, director of Medicaid advocacy for the consumer group Families USA, said states including Illinois and Arkansas have gotten huge responses to outreach efforts similar to West Virginia’s. She added that, a few years ago, Oregon was overwhelmed by the demand when it offered to cover the working poor.
“In 2008, Oregon expanded their Medicaid program. They expanded it to low-income adults, and they had 90,000 adults apply for 10,000 slots,” Mahan said.
More than half of the states are considering the option offered under the Affordable Care Act to use Medicaid to cover working people too poor to buy insurance. Critics of the law say the government should not be involved. However, Mahan pointed out, there is a clear pattern of pent-up demand in that population, all around the country.
Samples said West Virginia officials still want to hear from the other people who got letters; he said his office will send another copy, if need be. West Virginians can also find out if they’re qualified by going on-line, he added.
“The best way to find out if you are, is to go to the federal exchange website or to, or walk into a county office.”
Samples stressed that folks here can still sign up. To see if they qualify, they can get in touch with the Department of Health and Human Resources or go to one of the enrollment websites, he said.