The Star-Ledger

The Good News: Medicaid Applications Are On The Rise, And State's Website Has Been Flawless

The Star-Ledger — Sunday, November 3, 2013

By Dan Goldberg

While many New Jerseyans struggle to purchase private health insurance from the government's glitch-prone website, a group of local nonprofits reported last week that at least one part of the Affordable Care Act is working as intended.

New Jersey — like many other states — is seeing an uptick in Medicaid applications, thanks to the new law, also known as Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid in several ways, most notably by increasing the amount of money one can earn and still qualify for the program, which is primarily meant to insure the poor. An individual is now Medicaid eligible if he or she earns less than $15,282 and a family of four is eligible if they earn less than $31,322. Adults without dependent children are now also eligible for Medicaid because ofthenewlaw.

Ray Castro, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning New Jersey Policy Perspective, said highlighting Medciaid's expansion is "good for the state's health and good for the state's economy.

"Medicaid is a great deal for struggling, low-income, uninsured New Jerseyans because there is no cost to them and the benefits are very comprehensive," he said. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could choose whether to expand their Medicaid program. New Jersey is one of 25 states along with the District of Columbia that have done so, and the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy estimates that nearly 250,000 residents will enroll. The federal government will pay all the costs for states that expand Medicaid through 2016 and 90 percent of the extra expense to 2020.

States like Washington, New York, Kentucky and Colorado have already reported surges in their Medicaid rolls. A spokeswoman for New Jersey's State Department of Human Services, which oversees the program, said it only tracks enrollment, not ap- plications. Because coverage won't begin until Jan. 1, no official tally is available and likely won't be until February.

Maura Collinsgru, health policy advocate with New Jersey Citizen Action, said many nonprofit groups that help people enroll are seeing a "steady stream" of applicants. She said she might be able to provide more concrete numbers later this month.

The reason Medicaid signups have been so much more successful is because those applications are processed through the state of New Jersey, according Collinsgru.

"The process of applying through the NJ Family Care website has been seamless," said Quynh Tran, Health Program Manager for BPSOS, a Vietnamese community based organization with an office in Pennsauken. "Since beginning to use the site two weeks ago, we have had no problem completing applications for members of our community."

It's not just the website. The Medicaid population is often easier to reach because they tpyically rely on nonprofits for other services.

Those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still want to purchase federally subsidized private health insurance must apply through the federal government, which has struggled to process applications because of the problems with the website, healthcare.gov

Collinsgru said enrollment is about more than just a website.

"We've not been sitting idly by waiting for fixes," she said. "We are urging consumers to utilize to the maximum extent possible the NJ Family Care website, which is working."

Applications for Medicaid can be completed online at NJFamilyCare.org or by calling 1-800-701-0710.

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