MEDINA — Medina County’s Medicaid office is upgrading its computer system to handle a possible increase in people eligible for the program next year.
Mead Wilkins, the director of Medina County Job and Family Services, said the Affordable Care Act — known as ObamaCare — allocated federal dollars to pay for 90 percent of the cost of system upgrades for state Medicaid application systems. The department didn’t have a cost estimate.
The law makes Medicaid services accessible to more Americans and enrollment begins Oct. 1 for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1.
The number of people eligible to enroll could grow if the Ohio Legislature agrees to participate in the expansion of the program provided by the Affordable Care Act.
The law calls for the federal government to pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, gradually phasing down to 90 percent — still well above Ohio’s current level of almost 64 percent.
Gov. John Kasich proposed extending the program in February. But Republican GOP leaders in the Legislature pulled the measure from the state budget.
House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, has said his chamber wouldn’t be ready to take any action on Medicaid by October — more likely by year’s end.
Last month, backers of Medicaid expansion started gathering initial signatures in an effort that could put the idea before Ohio voters if the Republican-controlled Legislature does not act.
A petition to get the proposal on the ballot must clear a variety of hurdles to be successful. Supporters have to gather a certain number of valid signatures from registered voters. Once those are verified, the General Assembly has four months to act on the proposed law. If legislators pass, amend or take no action, then supplemental petitions may be circulated to get it before Ohio voters in November 2014.
About 366,000 Ohioans would be newly eligible for coverage beginning in 2014 by expanding Medicaid. The federal-state health program for the poor already provides care for one of every five residents in the state.
Wilkins said the standard for qualifying for Medicaid now is 90 percent of the federal poverty income guideline and varies based on family size.
Kasich’s proposal would make more people eligible by raising the limit to 138 percent of the poverty line.
He said many people will qualify very quickly once any expansion is put in place.
In the meantime, he said, Medina County already has more than 5,000 people who are eligible for Medicaid but don’t have it.
“Even if we don’t expand it, there’s still a whole other group of those already eligible who need to be processed,” he said.
Wilkins said he expected the computer upgrade to be done in time to begin taking Medicaid applications next month.
County JFS presently uses an outdated DOS-based system, called CRIS-E, that Wilkins said is older than most of the staff.
“We can’t even find programmers for this system anymore,” he said.
Because Medicaid is one of the state’s largest budget line items, the state recently separated Medicaid from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The new independent department will see an upgrade to both software and hardware and switch to an application process called MAGI — “modified adjusted gross income.”
With basic tax and identity information, the Medicaid department will verify the applicant’s adjusted gross income based on the previous year’s income tax filing through an Internal Revenue Service hub, and approve or deny the application on that basis.
Louise Brown, social services administrator for the county JFS, said the county does not yet know the cost of the system upgrade.
Hospitals will begin using the process Jan. 1, so patients can apply for assistance to offset the cost of emergency health care.
At present, the application requires various forms of information and documentation, and Wilkins said the new method will streamline the process.
“It’s a very arduous and time-consuming process, so the goal is to modernize and simplify it,” he said. “It takes too long for people who have urgent needs or terminal conditions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or email@example.com.
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