The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 28, 2013

Will state’s online Medicaid system be overwhelmed, too?

By CATHERINE CANDISKY
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS — About 600,000 poor, uninsured Ohioans are expected to enroll in Medicaid in the next 18 months, a surge that will test the state’s new computer system for determining eligibility.

State officials promise there will be no repeat of the technical failures that have plagued Obamacare’s online-enrollment system. They can’t, however, say when the new Ohio Integrated Eligibility computer system will begin accepting applications from the tens of thousands now eligible for tax-funded health care under last week’s decision to expand Medicaid.

For now, visitors to benefits.ohio.gov are told that “important information on when to apply will be available in the next few weeks.” Greg Moody, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation, said his hope is to have several weeks for enrollment before coverage starts on Jan. 1.

County officials on the front lines are more cautious about what to expect.

“We’ll be trying to sign up as many people as possible online, but we expect we’ll be doing a lot of paper applications,” said Lance Porter, spokesman for the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.

“We think there will be a mad rush because people need insurance, but how many, how fast, we just don’t know.”

The state Medicaid program currently insures 2.4 million poor and disabled Ohioans.

Under Obamacare, about 600,000 more Ohioans are expected to sign up for Medicaid by July 1, 2015. About half became eligible last week when the state Controlling Board authorized Gov. John Kasich’s request to expand the program. The other half - currently eligible but not enrolled - are expected to sign up to avoid tax penalties that will be imposed after Jan.?1 for most Americans who fail to obtain health coverage.

Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Association of Job and Family Services Directors, said there is concern that the new system won’t be able to handle the volume of applicants.

“It’s not a panic, but there are challenges we face,” Potts said.

A two-year rollout of the new system was launched on Oct. 1, coinciding with the launch of Obamacare. So far, 144 teens who have aged out of the foster-care system have been, or are in the process of being, enrolled online in the state Medicaid program. The 275,000 expansion group is next to be enrolled online, followed by children and parents starting Jan. 1.

Until then, Medicaid applicants can continue to sign up for benefits in person or by telephone.

The new online system is supposed to shorten the time caseworkers must spend processing applications, freeing them to assist clients. Eventually, it will be used to process applications for food stamps, welfare and other government-assistance programs.

The state computer also is supposed to be integrated with the federally operated online marketplace - HealthCare

.gov - where the uninsured can shop for private health plans. But that system is not working, and the time frame for repairs to be complete is unclear.

Moody said the state is able to access a separate federal data hub to verify identification and income information for Medicaid applicants. However, it is unable to transfer applicants who do not qualify for Medicaid to the federal site. Likewise, the federal site cannot connect with the state to forward Medicaid applicants.