Officials expect more people directed to TennCare

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While Tennessee residents have been slow to buy health insurance through a new online exchange, state officials said Monday that the number of people being directed to the state’s expanded Medicaid program is higher than expected.

The online insurance marketplaces and the Medicaid expansions are part of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Officials had projected that the exchanges would identify nearly 47,000 people who are eligible for TennCare but not enrolled.

However, TennCare Director Darin Gordon told Gov. Bill Haslam during a Monday budget hearing the figure will more likely be about 52,000 for fiscal year 2015.

“It is concerning,” Gordon said. “But at this point, we don’t have anything to cause us to revise our numbers.”

Just in case, Gordon is asking the governor for an additional $180 million in the agency’s budget. He stressed the importance of TennCare maintaining a healthy reserve, which is currently about $315 million.

“If … we start seeing increases in those numbers on eligible but not enrolled, we need to make sure we have adequate reserves to be able to make sure that it helps make those rough places smooth,” Gordon said.

So far, only about 1,000 people have purchased health insurance through the online exchange in Tennessee. Part of the problem may be due to issues with the website to purchase the insurance.

The Obama administration said Monday that it’s scrambling to fix the malfunctioning website by Nov. 30. White House spokesman Jay Carney nevertheless predicted that one in five people will start the process online but won’t be able to purchase insurance.

He said technical problems are not the only reason. Some may not be comfortable using a computer to buy insurance. Others may face a tax situation that is too complicated for the website to determine eligibility for subsidies.

Open enrollment for coverage began Oct. 1 and runs through March 31.

There are about 982,000 uninsured people in Tennessee. Before Tennessee officials decided earlier this year not to participate in a partnership with the federal government in establishing a health insurance exchange, they estimated that about 300,000 could participate in the insurance marketplace. Some estimates put that number as high as 600,000.

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