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January Brings Uptick in People Declared Eligible for Medicaid, CHIP

By Rebecca Adams, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

February 28, 2014 -- More than 2.4 million people were determined in January to be eligible for Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), said a new report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

That's about 143,000 higher than in December.

Most of the determinations were in the 26 states that expanded Medicaid to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level under the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

The data are incomplete in many ways. The report does not include people who applied for coverage through the federal website It also does not break out how many of the applicants are eligible under new Medicaid rules that took effect on Jan. 1 and how many are eligible under the previously existing Medicaid system. Information from many states also is incomplete or in some cases, includes applications from people who are already enrolled but need to renew their coverage.

In January, Medicaid and CHIP agencies nationwide got almost 2.3 million applications. That is up from about 1.9 million in December. An application isn't necessarily for one person. It could also be for a family.

"The number of Medicaid determinations across the country is encouraging, but more work is left to do," said a blog post on the Health and Human Services website touting the numbers.

Since the open enrollment period started on Oct. 1, about 8.9 million people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP. But it is unclear how many of those people would have been eligible under the traditional Medicaid system and how many gained coverage because of the health care law.

The enrollment numbers come as the discussion about whether to expand Medicaid moves ahead in several states. Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert recently unveiled his plan to expand Medicaid through a block grant waiver. The plan, which would use Medicaid dollars to buy private plans through the new marketplace, mirrors programs that have been approved in Arkansas and Iowa.

Herbert would provide different levels of assistance to people based on their ability to work, household income, access to employer or family health insurance, and individual health care needs. The people would have to make co-payments to help pay for the cost of their care.

"I am prepared to pursue a block grant from the federal government to bring Utah taxpayer dollars back to our state to fulfill our responsibility to care for the poorest among us," he said in a statement.

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