About 7,700 Alaskans have enrolled in expanded Medicaid



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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — About 7,700 people have enrolled in an expanded Medicaid program launched by the state on Sept. 1 to cover more lower-income Alaskans, a state health department official said.

The agency appears on track with projections that a total of about 20,100 newly eligible people would enroll in Medicaid during the first year of expansion, Chris Ashenbrenner, Medicaid program coordinator for the health department, said Tuesday.

A study commissioned by the department estimated that about 42,000 people would be newly eligible for Medicaid under expansion but only about 20,100 would enroll the first year.

Ashenbrenner said enrollment in the first half of the year is expected to be more robust due to pent-up demand for health care. She said open enrollment periods through the federally facilitated health insurance marketplace also bring in new Medicaid applications since the system can make a Medicaid-eligibility determination or refer cases to the state for a determination.

In November alone, when the latest open enrollment period opened, there were nearly 7,000 applications for Medicaid, though it wasn't immediately clear how many of those might fall into the expansion population or would qualify for Medicaid for other reasons, Ashenbrenner said.

The department is working through a backlog of applications that might take until spring, she said.

Medicaid provides health and long-term care services for low-income Alaskans, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Expansion extended coverage to adults between 19 and 64 who are not pregnant, disabled or caring for children and who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For single Alaskans, that's an income of as much as $20,314 a year, and for married couples, it's $27,490 a year.

Last summer, Gov. Bill Walker decided to expand Medicaid on his own after legislators delayed the issue for further review. Questions had been raised about whether the system could handle thousands of new recipients and there were concerns with the costs of the program overall.

Administration officials have acknowledged the current Medicaid program is not sustainable but see expansion as a way to leverage federal dollars to help contain and curb program costs.

A lawsuit filed the Legislative Council challenging Walker's actions is pending in state court. Walker has cited expansion as a success of his first year in office.

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Becky Bohrer

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