West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s (D) decision to accept Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion last spring is already paying off in a big way for the large number of poor and uninsured people in the state.
According to the New York Times, about 75,000 Wast Virginia residents have enrolled in Medicaid since Obamacare’s open enrollment season launched in October. While a portion of that consists of people who already had Medicaid benefits and are simply re-enrolling in the program, a sizable number of uninsured residents are gaining health benefits for the first time, thanks to the health law’s expanded eligibility threshold that allows anyone earning up 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to enroll in Medicaid. In fact, the number of uninsured people in the states has already been reduced by a third.
An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) finds that the Medicaid expansion will eventually reduce West Virginia’s uninsurance rate by a staggering 67 percent.
That’s particularly important in a state with sky-high rates of chronic illness and poverty. The Times highlights Sharon Mills, a disabled nurse with diabetes who had to rely on free samples and the kindness of strangers to afford her medication. “The heavy thing that was pressing on me is gone,” Mills said, describing her feelings of relief about gaining health insurance under the Medicaid expansion.
Expansion has been having a similar effect throughout the country. Oregon reduced its uninsurancee rate by 10 percent in just the first two weeks of October thanks to the expansion; all told, about four million people have enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) since Obamacare’s open enrollment period began. In states that expanded Medicaid, applications spiked by 15 percent in October compared to the previous three months, and applications have been rising even in the states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Some believe this is due to “the woodwork effect,” where people who didn’t know they qualified for public insurance are signing up for insurance thanks to intense media coverage of Obamacare.
Unfortunately, unlike West Virginia, many of the poorest and sickest states in America have rejected the Medicaid expansion, leaving more than 5.3 million low-income Americans in a coverage gap.