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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Enrolling Americans just got easier

Elisabeth Rodman

Staff Writer

We use the internet everyday to do just about everything. We read the news, talk with friends, buy our clothes, and pay our bills online. It’s hard to believe in this day and age, but the vast majority of people applying for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have to mail in paper documentation or schedule time out of their day to go into an eligibility office.

Thanks to health reform, millions of Americans will be able to enroll in Medicaid, CHIP, and other forms of health coverage online in a matter of a few years. The new law contains requirements that consumers be able to apply for coverage—and receive a decision—online by 2014. But, states have a long way to go between now and then to get their enrollment and eligibility systems up to speed.

Why aren’t online applications already the way of the world for enrolling in Medicaid and CHIP? Two big reasons may be that 1) states’ eligibility systems are very, very old and the necessary system takes time, and 2) this is uncharted territory; there are very few models or best practices to turn to for guidance.

Fortunately, the federal government has issued guidance and announced the availability of increased federal funding for Medicaid enrollment Information Technology (IT). This guidance and funding  will effectively put the federal government’s money where its mouth is, making it easier for states to design, implement, and maintain the IT needed to enroll people in coverage through exchanges (the “one-stop shops” or marketplaces that will be created for purchasing health insurance).

How much extra money, you ask? This proposed federal funding for Medicaid IT will be available to states that are creating or updating their eligibility systems in order to streamline and simplify their enrollment processes. If states comply with all of the rules outlined in the new proposed regulations, they will receive $9 from the federal government for every $1 they spend on the design, development, and implementation of Medicaid eligibility systems until December 31, 2015. After that, states can receive up to $3 for every $1 they spend on the maintenance of their eligibility systems. Previously, states could only receive $1 from the federal government for every $1 they spent on Medicaid eligibility systems.

This new leveraged funding is a great deal! With investments like this, it will be only a matter of time before enrolling in health coverage can be accomplished in a few easy clicks, at a time that is convenient for the consumer. No more waiting in long lines, providing stacks of paperwork, or worrying about information getting lost in the mail.