Nevada Medicaid enrollments surge

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s Medicaid enrollments swelled to more than double the number projected in the last quarter of 2013 as people who were eligible but never signed up before sought health insurance coverage mandated under the federal health care overhaul, officials said Thursday.

From October through the end of December, the Medicaid caseload increased by 10,483 to 341,106, said Mike Willden, Health and Human Services director.

The growth exceeds original projections by 5,000.

“Although we anticipated increased growth, the activity has been more vigorous than we initially projected,” Willden said, adding that an advertising campaign launched last fall “encouraged Nevadans to take action and seek health insurance coverage.”

Another enrollment surge is anticipated as thousands of low-income Nevadans not previously qualified for Medicaid became eligible as of Jan. 1. For the first time in Nevada, adults without children who meet the income threshold of 138 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for Medicaid coverage.

“We will not see the numbers that include the newly eligible population until the January statistics are compiled,” Willden said.

He said the department typically processes about 12,000 applications monthly for both Medicaid and Nevada Check Up, the state’s insurance program for low-income children. But applications in December tripled and the agency has more than 38,000 waiting to be processed.

Another report presented later Thursday to the board overseeing Nevada’s insurance exchange shows 17,946 people who shopped for private insurance through the online portal have confirmed plan selections. Of those, 10,776 have paid the premiums. About 23,000 have chosen stand-alone dental coverage.

Exchange officials said roughly 20 percent of those buying coverage are in the age range of 18 to 34, so-called “young invincibles” considered key to the success of the health reform law. Participation by younger, healthy people is needed to help offset medical costs associated with older people who have more health problems.

Conversely, about 70 percent are age 35 and older. The remaining enrollments are children.

The biggest demand has been in southern Nevada, where enrollments account for 68 percent of the total. Rural areas made up just 2 percent, percentages in line with Nevada’s population distribution.

The exchange has an enrollment target of 118,000 by the end of March, the deadline for people to sign up to avoid tax penalties.

Jon Hager, executive director of the exchange, said it will be “extremely difficult” to meet the enrollment goal, but added it was a “guesstimate” from when the exchange was only in the planning phases.

Before the health care law, about 600,000 Nevadans, roughly 22 percent, lacked health insurance. Willden said that percentage is expected to drop to 10 percent by the end of 2015, largely due to increased Medicaid participants.

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