Little progress made on Medicade rollout in W.Va.

Currently, the only people in West Virginia who are eligible for federal Medicaid coverage are those who make 38 percent or less of the federal poverty level — about $8,200 for a family of four. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced back in May he wants to expand that program to 138 percent, which would be about $32,500 for a family of four.

State officials expect more than 90,000 additional West Virginia residents could seek coverage when these changes take effect. The new enrollees would be joining the estimated 350,000 West Virginia residents who received benefits from Medicaid last year.

When he made the announcement, the governor called on the Bureau for Medical Services to create a report with details about how the agency would extend the coverage to these additional people.

He said he expected that report in June and was told by Rocco Fucillo, who was then head of Department of Health and Human Resources, that it would be finished even sooner. But so far there has been little progress by state officials to implement a plan to expand this Medicaid coverage in West Virginia.

Nancy Atkins, the commissioner of medical services in DHHR, blames the federal government for the delays. She said officials there have failed so far to provide guidelines the state will need to follow in preparing its plan. She also said DHHR had intended to be done in May but are now at a standstill without final instructions from the federal government.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires the state to file all state plan amendments before proceeding with its plan for implementation. And the federal agency released a document of more than 600 pages earlier this month outlining how states should proceed with expansion of its Medicaid program.

Right now the timetable for states to submit new plans for expansion of federal Medicaid is keyed to federal plans to allow the newly eligible individuals to begin enrolling Oct. 1. The actual medical services would then be available on Jan. 1, 2014. Its still uncertain whether West Virginia will be able to meet that deadline.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said earlier this month that “it’s not like we have a choice whether to implement it; it’s the law of the land.” He said the massive federal report is “pretty far down in the weeds” at some points, but very important. West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is a nonprofit agency of health care professionals that supports implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Obviously, if nearly 100,000 more West Virginians can take advantage of this expanded federal Medicaid coverage during the next year or so it will be a blessing to them. But the implementation of such an ambitious program seems more and more unlikely to be completed during the initial timetable.

Meanwhile, it’s been 31 years since the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill that gave seniors and the handicapped a break on their annual property taxes.

The so-called exemption from property taxes was set at $20,000 and hasn’t been changed since that move in 1982. Now Republican members in the House of Delegates want to increase that exemption, according to Daryl Cowles, minority whip for the GOP.

The idea is to enact legislation that would allow any individual county to increase the property tax exemption if the elected officials are convinced their county has the ability to allow a higher exemption from the tax.

The most recent effort in the House Constitutional Revision Committee would allow individual counties to allow an increased deduction of up to 50 percent of the assessed value in a proposed constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by voters statewide.

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