July 24, 2016

Partly cloudy

Medicaid expansion jams application process

About 700 Medina County residents have submitted applications for Medicaid coverage under an expanded system implemented by the state in December. But the extra applications and some web-based issues regarding enrollment have slowed the process.

Cheryl Mason, eligibility administrator at Medina County Job and Family Services, said four staff members have been working almost exclusively on handling the applications.

“We’ve also brought on another two more to help with the backlog,” Mason said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, expanded Medicaid coverage is available for people earning up to 138 percent above the poverty line — $11,670 for an individual and $15,730 for a family of two.

The expanded Medicaid coverage is financed by the federal government until 2017, when the state will have to cover 10 percent of the cost.

In October, Gov. John Kasich moved to secure federal funds to expand the program in Ohio and residents were able to start signing up Dec. 9 under the new guidelines.

Mason said many of the early applications in Medina County were completed using paper forms, but she said more and more applications are coming in from www.benefits.ohio.gov.

The enrollment program the state uses is part of the online Ohio Benefits, an eligibility system launched by the state in October, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

According to the state, county caseworkers completed more than 13,000 hours of training in how the use the new system.
Mason said there have been some glitches in the online software, but said the state has been responsive in fixing the problems.

“They do listen to the counties if we report something is not working,” she said. “If you really can’t get it done online, you can apply with a paper application or over the phone; but they’ve fixed a lot of the bugs with the online program.”

While the state program on its own is working well to enroll people in Medicaid, there have been issues with connecting the data collected on the state site with federal information, said Joel Potts, executive director of Ohio Job and Family Services Directors’ Association.

Potts said the state enrollment software has issues “pinging” or sharing information with the federal Affordable Care Act website and other federal websites, meaning some people who tried to enroll for expanded Medicaid coverage through the ACA website have their application sitting in limbo.

“When that link works, it will all be automated; but that link doesn’t exist right now,” Potts said. “The feds began doing a series of robocalls to federal applicants for expanded Medicaid, encouraging people to just visit their state site to sign up.”

Potts encouraged anyone who signed up for Ohio’s expanded Medicaid coverage and who hasn’t received a response should try signing up through the state system.

“We have no way of verifying if they signed up (through the ACA),” he said. “So we encouraged people, if they’re waiting to hear about it, to start an application through the state system.”

Potts said that while the state system is working better than some expected, he expects it will be a long time before everything is running exactly as it should between the state and federal programs.

“I’ve never seen us do anything of this magnitude this fast,” he said. “I think, realistically, we’ll be in this transition period for a while.”

Potts said the other issue the state is having in working in tandem with the federal government is in verifying eligibility for the expanded Medicaid coverage.

“If the system can’t verify a tax record, our caseworkers have to track the record down themselves manually,” he said.

Mason said anyone having issues with the website can stop by the Job and Family Services office at 232 Northland Drive in Medina for help applying for benefits, or call the toll-free enrollment line at (800) 324-8680.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.