For thousands of Ohioans, the New Year is the first time they'll have access to health insurance through Medicaid. The federally-funded coverage has largely been off-limits for adults without children - no matter how little income they make. But as Ideastream's Sarah Jane Tribble explains, that has changed.
Just before Christmas, 44-year-old Patrick Butas of Cleveland went to St. Vincent Charity Hospital. Despite having a nasty fever that was causing sweat to form on his brow, he signed up for Medicaid.
"For years and years, I made $30-$40,000 a year and then I lost my job and I have to resort to this," Butas says.
Butas was part of an end-of-the-year rush in Ohio to sign up for Medicaid. The state says more than 17,000 people have filled out applications on its Web site benefits.ohio.gov since Dec. 9th.
Sam Rossi, director of communications with the Ohio Department of Medicaid, says there are two main drivers for that enrollment.
"One is the newly eligible Ohioans who qualify for Medicaid benefits through extending Medicaid then there is also what is known as the woodwork effect, which are individuals who have already qualified for Medicaid but for some reason were never on the rolls," Rossi says.
The Affordable Care Act requires most individuals to have health insurance. The deadline to sign up is the end of March, with Medicaid coverage retroactive to January 1st.
Many people, like Butas, are signing up with help from a navigator. On the day before Christmas, Butas worked with Navigator Rachel DeGolia on the Medicaid application.
"Do you have $100 or more in cash, checking, or savings? No. Are your monthly rent and utility payments more than your monthly income? Yes," Butas says.
For Butas, getting help with insurance matters because every dollar counts.
Ohio expects an additional half a million people will enroll in Medicaid by the middle of 2015.