The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 26, 2013

Obamacare change to aid stressed counties, poor

Thousands of area residents will qualify for Medicaid; counties will verify eligibility

The expansion of Medicaid in Minnesota means that about 152,000 people will become eligible for free health insurance from the federal government Jan. 1. That, combined with the requirement that almost everyone will have to get insurance, is causing counties to prepare for a wave of new eligibility applications.

Some area counties are creating new positions or preparing for overtime, while others believe they have the staff to handle the influx. Seven area counties say they will be hiring new positions, for a total of nine, to accommodate the new caseload.

The federal government is paying for 75 percent of the counties’ costs to determine eligibility, so there should be little or no rise in property taxes for this purpose.

The expansion in eligibility is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that this expansion is optional for states, but Minnesota is one of the states that opted in.

Scott Leitz, assistant commissioner at the state’s Department of Human Services, said it was a good deal for the state.

The new enrollees are fully federally funded for three years, after which the state contribution rises to 10 percent. That’s compared to the 50-50 contributions under the old rule.

The biggest group of people affected by the expansion are those who make between 75 percent and 133 percent of the poverty guidelines. For a single person under the 2013 guidelines, that affects a person making between $8,618 and $15,282.

This group is currently covered by a state program called MinnesotaCare. The biggest difference between Medicaid, the federal program, and MinnesotaCare is that Medicaid requires no premium.

“We think it’s a better option for a lot of people,” Leitz said. What little changes patients can expect in what’s covered will be improvements, he said.

The health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act, including Minnesota’s MNsure, also have a role to play.

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