JFS preparing for effects of Obamacare

LISBON -U.S. citizens are not the only ones grappling with the intricacies of Obamacare.

Eileen Dray-Bardon, director of the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services, advised county commissioners Wednesday her staff has been working for months in preparation for Oct. 1, which is the date when the public can begin seeking health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

First, they will have to upgrade their computer system linked with the state’s system to determine Medicaid eligibility under the new guidelines. Medicaid is the federal/state program that provides health insurance coverage for lower-income citizens.

Dray-Bardon said there are new income requirements for Medicaid recipients that are now separate from the income requirements used to determine eligibility for other government assistance, such as food stamps and cash payments.

There are currently about 18,000 county residents covered by Medicaid, 15,000 of whom are in households with minor children.

The good news is the federal and state governments are picking up the entire cost of making the necessary system changes, but Dray-Bardon said she still needed to hire additional staff to assist in the change-over.

“We’re trying to wrap our mind around all of this,” she told commissioners.

“The entire country is trying to get its mind around it,” replied Commission Chairman Mike Halleck. “If this is such a good idea, why has Congress and the federal government exempted itself?”

For more information, officials are encouraging people to go to the new state website at benefits.ohio.gov, where people who are ineligible for Medicaid will be referred to a health care exchange.

Dray-Bardon also told commissioners Oct. 1 is the deadline for when able-bodied, childless food stamps recipients will again be required to find work or be looking for a job if they want to continue receiving the benefit.

Gov. John Kasich announced this month the economy had improved to the point where he was reinstating the work requirement for able-bodied food stamp recipients between ages 18 and 50 who are without dependents. The requirement had been waived in 2008.

About 1,300 of the 17,539 people receiving food stamps in the county will be affected and must find work by Jan. 1 or enroll in a job training program. Failure to do so would limit them to food stamps for three months in any 36-month period. The average benefit in Ohio is $132 per month.

“I’m glad we’re getting back to that. Now if we can get drug testing for those people,” Halleck said.

He believes working a job is the first step for anyone who wants to get on the path to self-sufficiency. “I think those who need a hand up, I’m 100 percent for that, but there should be accountability,” Halleck said.

Louann Dunham, the public assistance administrator at the JFS, told commissioners they expect a significant number of the 1,300 food stamp recipients will simply to opt out of the program rather than meet the reinstated requirements. She said they usually see a 50 percent decline whenever they institute requirements of this sort.

Dray-Bardon said the real trick will be trying to find work for an additional 1,300 people.