Twenty-seven Alaskans were approved for benefits under Medicaid expansion Tuesday, the first day of the broadened health care program, the state Department of Health and Social Services announced Wednesday.
At least 252 people submitted paper applications Tuesday related to Medicaid expansion at Division of Public Assistance offices, said Sarana Schell, public information officer for the health department. Another 104 Alaskans submitted Medicaid applications online, though the state could not say whether they were taking advantage of the expanded program or were filing under the old rules, said Tammie Walker, acting chief of field services for the state's Division of Public Assistance.
Before Tuesday, the state transferred about 500 Alaskans from other programs to Medicaid because they qualified under the new rules and would get better benefits, said Chris Ashenbrenner, the state's Medicaid expansion project director.
A vast majority of those Alaskans had participated in the state-funded Chronic and Acute Medical Assistance program that provides health care coverage for those who have very little income, have inadequate or no health insurance, didn't qualify for Medicaid before expansion and have a serious health issue like cancer or chronic mental illness, Ashenbrenner said.
The others moved to Medicaid were on Interim Assistance, a program for people waiting for a disability determination from Social Security -- a process which can take months and sometimes years, Schell said.
Ashenbrenner said transferring the group of about 500 Alaskans to Medicaid gave the individuals broader health care coverage and would save the state money.
Schell said the group received their identification cards last week "so they would have them ready to go Sept. 1."
Medicaid applications submitted Tuesday were not given preference over the Division of Public Assistance's other work, Walker said. "We're doing today's work today regardless of what program," she said.
Medicaid expansion opens a new health coverage option for thousands of low-income, childless Alaskans between ages 19 and 64 who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (or an annual income of about $20,000 for a single adult).
Before Medicaid expansion took effect Tuesday, those Alaskans did not make enough money to get a discount or subsidy on their health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act and also did not qualify for Medicaid. By some estimates, up to 40,000 Alaskans fell into this gap population.
The state health department says it expects about 21,000 Alaskans to apply for Medicaid benefits under expansion in the next year.
Low-income couples with children, and the children themselves, qualified under earlier Medicaid rules.
Alaskans can apply for Medicaid at any time through healthcare.gov or the state's Division of Public Assistance self-service website. They can also submit their applications at any of the division's offices, according to the state health department.