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W.Va. Medicaid enrollment jumps

More than 50,000 West Virginians have already enrolled in the state's Medicaid program that was expanded under the Affordable Care Act.  

The federal health insurance marketplace, www.healthcare.gov, has been plagued with technical problems since its launch Oct. 1, preventing many people from signing up for Medicaid or private health insurance plans.

West Virginia's Medicaid website, known as West Virginia inRoads (www.wvinroads

.org) is operating without issue, however.

Nearly 2,000 people signed up for Medicaid through inRoads last week, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Jeremiah Samples, assistant to DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, said another 526 people signed up for Medicaid at the agency's county offices.

But most new Medicaid signups came through an auto-enrollment program DHHR began in the weeks leading up to the opening of the insurance marketplace.

As an attempt to cut down on Web traffic after Oct. 1, the agency sent out 118,000 auto-enrollment letters to families that are eligible for Medicaid insurance. Applicants who want to apply just provide some personal information and send the letter back to DHHR.

As of Friday, 47,752 people had signed up for Medicaid through the auto-enrollment process.

"Whereas many folks around the country may be struggling to access the federal government's healthcare.gov website, far fewer West Virginians are having to navigate that process because of this effort," Samples said.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, greatly expands eligibility requirements for Medicaid.

In West Virginia, anyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level is now eligible, which would include an individual making $15,800 per year or a family of four earning $32,500.

Under the expansion, 277,000 West Virginians are expected to have government-sponsored health coverage by 2016.

The law also created a health insurance marketplace, where anyone ineligible for Medicaid can shop for private health insurance coverage.

Because West Virginia opted to allow the federal government to handle its health care marketplace, the state's inRoads website does not allow individuals to shop for private health insurance. It instead redirects Medicaid-ineligible users to the federal website.

Unfortunately, few people have been able to use www.healthcare.gov since it opened last Tuesday.

Although the Obama administration initially blamed high levels of Internet traffic for problems at the online marketplace, officials told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday many of the glitches can be blamed on the exchange's underlying hardware and software.

Technicians are working to fix the glitches, officials told the Wall Street Journal.

Samples said the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has not yet released data showing how many West Virginians have signed up for private health insurance through the exchange. He said those numbers are expected to be released monthly.

Expect those numbers to be soundly unimpressive.

"Everybody's having trouble getting through," said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

That includes individual users, but also the navigators hired to help people sign up for health insurance, health insurance agents and staff at local DHHR offices.

Bryant said the best way to enroll for health insurance through the federal exchange is to print application forms from the website and mail them in.

Once the forms are processed, CMS will write back with the applicant's eligibility information, as well as options for coverage.

There is little reason to rush in signing up, however.

Individuals have until December to sign up for coverage that starts Jan. 1. Open enrollment through the marketplace ends March 30.

Anyone not signed up for some kind of health insurance after March 30 will be subject to a penalty through the Internal Revenue Service.

That penalty will start small - $95 per person, or 1 percent of household income, whichever is greater - but will increase significantly in 2016, to $695 per person or 2.5 percent of household income. That penalty will continue to increase in subsequent years according to a formula determined by the IRS.

There are some exemptions, however.

Anyone who cannot afford insurance will not be required to purchase it, including people who are now eligible for Medicaid but live in a state that declined to expand Medicaid coverage.

Native Americans, illegal immigrants, members of health care sharing ministries, groups with religious objections to health insurance and prisoners also are exempt from penalties, according to healthcare.gov.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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