By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
About 439,000 Pennsylvanians have enrolled in expanded Medicaid, which provides health insurance coverage to the poor and disabled, since the beginning of the year, according to figures released last week by the state’s Department of Human Services.
Shortly after taking office earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would scrap the Medicaid alternative briefly enacted by his predecessor and fully expand Medicaid, as permitted under the Affordable Care Act. The more than 100,000 people who had signed up for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s Healthy PA plan are being transitioned into Medicaid coverage.
The expansion covers Pennsylvanians age 19 to 64 with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The state had estimated prior to the expansion that up to 600,000 people would be eligible for the coverage.
Of the new enrollees, nearly 37,000 are from Allegheny County, according to state statistics.
Having upward of 400,000 people enrolled so far shows the need for health care coverage, advocates say, particularly among working poor adults, the demographic expected to be aided most by the expansion of Medicaid.
“I think it demonstrates that there is a pent-up demand for health insurance in Pennsylvania,” said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which pushed for Medicaid expansion and assists people in enrolling.
Nevertheless, the state should continue to work to make sure everyone knows about the coverage available, particularly those in rural or underserved areas, Ms. Kraus said.
The state is not doing any paid advertising, said Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, but is promoting the program with information at community events such as job fairs, farmers markets, libraries and other places where staff can talk to people and let them know about the insurance coverage that is now available. The department is able to use data to target ZIP codes that have higher levels of people who are uninsured, she said.
It’s not clear if Medicaid managed care companies are specifically advertising their plans directly to eligible consumers. A spokeswoman for UPMC Health Plan said it was not. Several other insurance companies that offer Medicaid managed care plans in Western Pennsylvania declined to say.
Different states have used a variety of outreach strategies to get people to sign up for the coverage, such as broad marketing campaigns, promotional materials like reusable shopping bags, and establishing walk-in enrollment sites, said Robin Rudowitz, associate director at the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Federal funds cover 100 percent of the expansion’s costs in 2015 and 2016, dropping to 90 percent over subsequent years.
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