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New Medicaid enrollment begins

Tom Jackson • Dec 10, 2013 at 5:20 PM

The state’s website for signing up, benefits.ohio.gov, appears to be working. That’s unlike the beleaguered federal site for signing up for private health insurance, healthcare.gov, which has been plagued by problems.

Both programs are enrolling uninsured Ohioans for health care coverage that will start on Jan. 1.

Ohioans who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to obtain Medicaid under new rules that went into effect when Ohio decided to accept the expansion of Medicaid included in the Affordable Care Act. The new Medicaid rules also extend coverage to certain people who didn’t qualify before, such as single adults without children.

Ohioans who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, a safety-net program for low-income people, may well qualify for federal subsidies to help them buy insurance on healthcare.gov.

Sam Rossi, a spokesman for Ohio’s Medicaid program, said as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, more than 1,000 applications for Medicaid had been accepted by benefits.ohio.gov.

“We’re having a good day so far” Rossi said.

He said people who lack Internet access who believe they may qualify can seek help instead at their local Job and Family Services office.

The state estimates 3,688 uninsured people in Erie County might qualify for Medicaid under the new rules. The figures are 3,329 for Huron County, 3,035 for Sandusky County and 1,718 for Ottawa County.

The state’s Medicaid site has an eligibility checklist on its home page. It asks a few questions to help visitors quickly determine if they might be eligible for Medicaid.

Wilson Forney is executive director of Family Health Services of Erie County, a local agency that provides primary health care in Sandusky at the southern campus of Firelands Regional Medical Center.

Forney said Family Health Services currently serves 3,026 patients, and about 42 percent are on Medicaid, while 30 percent have no insurance at all. While the program serves everyone, not just people who have little money, it does serve as a safety net for health care, Forney said.

He said he hopes the Medicaid expansion and the new health insurance exchange will increase the percentage of patients who have health coverage. That would likely allow Family Health Services to hire more employees and serve more people, Forney said.

Erie County’s health commissioner, Pete Schade, also hopes Medicaid expansion will help his clients obtain coverage.

To allow the health department’s new dental care program to support itself, the health department has to make sure at least 65 percent of its dental patients have Medicaid or another form of health insurance, Schade said. That would provide a 35 percent cap on the number of people who have no coverage and who might be able to afford only the $25 minimum fee, he said.

Currently, the balance between insured and uninsured is about 50/50, he said.

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