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Medicaid enrollment up 4% per year in Erie County, county report shows

courtesy Erie County Medicaid Inspector General

Nearly a third of Erie County residents are on Medicaid and the number is rising at an average 4 percent annually, according to the latest numbers from the County's Medicaid Inspector General. The report also shows numbers that contradict what the Inspector General says are some of the misconceptions about Medicaid and who is using it.

Medicaid Inspector General Michael Szukala released his 2016 report just before the Thanksgiving holiday. According to his findings, an estimated 286,000 people were signed up for Medicaid in 2015. More than 137,000 recipients were white. That, according to Szukala, was more than the numbers of black, Asian and Hispanic recipients combined.

The report also notes that a third of those signed up for Medicaid were under the age of 21. Younger people, Szukala told WBFO, made up the fastest rising population of Medicaid enrollees. He links that to the Affordable Care Act.

"The Affordable Care Act raised the amount that you can earn and still qualify for Medicaid," he said. "As a result, I believe there are a great many working families out there, families that people wouldn't traditionally consider poor, but families who need health care and the Affordable Care Act now allows them to qualify for Medicaid."

Among other findings in Szukala's report:

  • 12 percent of people on Medicaid were born in another country.
  • Three of the fastest growing areas for Medicaid in Erie County are Hamburg, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. There were also large populations of Medicaid recipients living in the Town of Amherst and Village of Williamsville.
  • Actual Medicaid costs to the County have decreased as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s reimbursement formula.
  • 26 New York State counties have a higher percentage of Medicaid clients than Erie County, 29 have a lower percentage, while six have the same percentage.

Szukala reported that immigrants account for 12 percent of Erie County's Medicaid clients, or just over 32,000 foreign-born residents signed up as of June 30, 2016. He pointed out that "immigrant" status, for the purposes of reporting Medicaid, includes anyone who may have become citizens many years ago.
"People who, for example, came to the United States from Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 1980s to escape communism, they're still listed as foreign-born, although they've been here in the United States for more than 30 years," he said. 

Szukala also dismissed an often-spread claim by some during the recent election campaign that recent foreign arrivals have been tapping and straining public assistance. People living in the U.S. illegally, he told WBFO, are ineligible for Medicaid. And those who do arrive and take the proper steps to gain legal residency do not automatically get Medicaid.

"It's important for people to remember, if you come into the United States, you have to be a citizen," Szukala said. "But even after you become a citizen, there's still a five-year waiting period to apply for Medicaid in some cases."

Credit courtesy Erie County Medicaid Inspector General
Credit courtesy Erie County Medicaid Inspector General

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.