- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Feb. 23

The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., on W.Va., Ky. devote extra effort to aid health care enrollment:

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law that’s widely become known as Obamacare, has been beset with glitches and the target of heavy criticism for consequences that were not explained when the law was passed nearly four years ago.

But some aspects of the law’s goal of expanding health insurance coverage to those without it have been more successful. One piece is relaxing the income requirements for eligibility for government-provided Medicaid coverage. Several states have made significant headway in enrolling a large percentage of people who are newly qualified for that health insurance.

Among the states doing “remarkable work” in that regard are West Virginia and Kentucky, according to Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit organization that promotes the idea of affordable health care for all Americans.

Both states have been aggressive in reaching out to newly eligible residents, helping them enroll in Medicaid and overcoming some of the problems that still exist in the federal government’s signup processes.

For example, West Virginia used information about recipients in other benefit programs to identify nearly 120,000 Mountain State residents who were potentially eligible and sent them letters urging them to enroll. That in itself resulted in a significant number of enrollees. Follow-up telephone calls by county office workers and other “assisters” yielded the enrollment of 15,000 more.

When technical problems at the federal level made it difficult to gather all the information necessary to enroll people, West Virginia workers used the basic information they had received and followed up with letters to obtain the necessary information.

The end result: West Virginia has enrolled 87,135 people in its Medicaid expansion, according to Jeremiah Samples, assistant secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. That total represents about 70 percent of the estimated eligible people in the state, and is about 25,000 more than expected to sign up for this year, he said.

According to Samples, the boost in Medicaid coverage coupled with new enrollments in private insurance means that the number of uninsured West Virginians has fallen from 13.5 percent to 4.2 percent, a huge improvement.

Kentucky also used several techniques. It employed a large number of “navigators” to help people enroll and it partnered with other organizations to help spread the word about the new available coverage at events throughout the state. Libraries across the state pitched in by hosting an “enrollment day” with experts on hand to help people enroll.

At this point, Kentucky is on a pace to have about 250,000 people enrolled by the end of February out of 640,000 who were uninsured before.

Of course, enrolling people is only one stage of the end goal of making health care accessible to more people. Just how the health care system absorbs all these new consumers has yet to play out and no doubt there will be complications, such as whether care will be easily accessible and the enrollees use it efficiently. That will have to be assessed later.

But at this point, efforts by various West Virginia and Kentucky agencies to help people begin to take advantage of this new health care opportunity have been commendable.

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