SALT LAKE CITY — More than 100 people enrolled in Medicaid after becoming eligible under new expansion guidelines OK'd earlier this month, the Utah Department of Health reported to state legislators Monday.
Another 215 applicants hope to join the 103 people granted access to the expanded program that was approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Nov. 1, Nate Checketts, deputy director of the health department, told the Health Reform Task Force.
Checketts praised members of the task force, several department officials and others for their work in negotiating with the federal government to get the expansion approved by the state's target date.
"When we got close, it really was a statewide push," Checketts said. "We had our congressional delegation, we had the governor, we had legislators, we had advocates. It was really a significant push by really a large part of the people involved in this program across the state of Utah trying to get that to the Nov. 1 date, and how we got there was, I think, all of us working together on that."
Checketts said of the new enrollees, 40 of them are chronically homeless, 46 were referred from a drug or mental health court, nine live in supportive housing, seven have completed substance abuse training inside a jail or prison and one is currently a mental health patient at the Utah State Hospital.
The Medicaid expansion, first put into motion by legislation from Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, aims to put 4,000 to 6,000 of Utah's homeless and otherwise most indigent onto the rolls of Medicaid. Specifically, the group targeted in the approved expansion are extremely low-income, able-bodied adults without dependent children.
A full expansion of Medicaid, which was the initial intention for all states under the federal Affordable Care Act, would have made eligibility possible for all Utahns who earn 138 percent or less of the federal poverty level. But lawmakers balked at expanding coverage, citing long-term costs to the state by adding about 90,000 Utahns to Medicaid rolls.
A ballot initiative campaign called Utah Decides Healthcare is seeking to put the issue of full expansion before the state's voters in November 2018.
Checketts said one barrier to getting Medicaid enrollment up and running for newly eligible people is coordinating with providers.
In addition to the regular Medicaid application, health and human services providers "have to complete a form ... related to whether or not they meet one of the specific targeted categories" in the limited expansion "and (be) familiar enough with the individual to be able to certify those items," according to Checketts.
For example, a homeless shelter would need to fill out a form certifying its knowledge of that person's chronic homelessness, he said.1 comment on this story
The busy work of getting the Medicaid expansion approved in the first place means the state is playing some catch up in teaching providers how to assist their needy clients with enrollment, Checketts said.
"We've met with providers to educate them about this new program. ... Our (starting) up has required a lot of time working with them to get them ready for this," he said.
Checketts noted that any entities hoping to fill out applications on their clients' behalf should contact the Utah Department of Health to get added to the list of organizations authorized to do so.