Virginia’s Medicaid expansion drawing thousands more enrollees than initially projected

By: - November 16, 2018 6:51 pm

State social services workers signed up homeless residents for Medicaid at a resource fair in Richmond in 2018. Enrollment in the program has more than doubled since Medicaid expansion, leading to rising demand for mental health services. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Less than two weeks after Virginia opened registration for its expanded Medicaid program, officials say they’ve already drawn thousands more applicants than initially anticipated.

The state had expected the new program to enroll 300,000 over the next year and a half. They now expect that number to reach 375,000. The new estimates won’t alter the total expansion population, which the state has said will be about 400,000.

Officials attributed the increase to automatic enrollment of residents who are already signed up for other social benefit programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

“The idea is that, the people in SNAP, the food stamp program, we know who they are, we know what their income level is and we can expedite their enrollment by getting them to answer just two different questions,” legislative fiscal analyst Mike Tweedy told members of the Senate budget committee Friday during their retreat in Williamsburg.

He said the state now expects that 256,000 people will be enrolled by Jan. 1, when the coverage goes into effect.

The state’s Medicaid enrollment hotline received a record number of calls on Nov. 1, the first day residents could enroll under the new expansion rules.

Word that more people will be receiving health care was received as good news by some and a potential liability by others, namely Senate Republicans who opposed Medicaid expansion when it passed earlier this year.

The higher numbers will not mean Virginia will pay more, with the federal government picking up 90 percent of the tab and hospitals paying the rest the rest through new provider assessments, Tweedy said.

“What the state was sold was not what was billed,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who said he remains concerned the state will end up on the hook, citing a “potentially pretty large fiscal impact.”

Backers of expansion said they’re excited.

“We’ll figure the money out,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, “If we get more people covered, that’s going to mean more peoples’ lives are improved. In the long run, we’re better off.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.