CHARLESTON - About half of the in-person assister positions created by the state to help people enroll in West Virginia's health insurance marketplace and expanded Medicaid program have yet to be filled.
The state plans to hire 170 full-time in-person assisters. Four companies have been chosen to provide more workers, Office of the Insurance Commissioner spokesman Jason Butcher said.
About 80 positions have been filled, said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Care.
Open enrollment in the state's expanded Medicaid program and the health insurance marketplace began Oct. 1 and will continue through March 31.
"We're going to lose one-sixth of the enrollment period with them not being in place," Bryant said.
He said that the in-person assister program was intended to be a key part of the state's outreach to people without insurance. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin turned down federal dollars to fund a state-run media campaign about the Affordable Care Act.
"I think it's a big deal," Bryant said. "They were (to be) the backbone of the outreach efforts."
Butcher said that other workers around the state are helping people to enroll in health insurance, including navigators, certified application counselors and insurance agents.
"The IPA program overseen by the state will provide approximately 170 individuals, which when added to the navigators, CACS, and (insurance) agents also providing these services should provide our citizens with trained resources close to where they live should they have questions about the ACA and how it impacts them," Butcher said.
An in-person assister is being placed in each of the Department of Health and Human Resources' 55 county offices, along with the state Bureau of Senior Services' offices.
The state originally planned to hire 270 in-person assisters, according to published reports, citing state grant applications that it obtained through an open records request.
Butcher said the state did not need that many workers because the federal government added more resources and other helpers.
The state received about $14 million in federal funding for customer assistance. About $4.5 million went to Reston, Va.-based agency Maximus for training and oversight of in-person assisters.
Butcher said that the Office of the Insurance Commissioner does not intend to return any money to the federal government.
"No funding has been returned, nor is there any anticipation to return the funding," Butcher said. "Our grant funding is available through the end of 2014, so we plan to utilize any remaining funding to assist with enrollment during next year's open enrollment period."
About 60,000 West Virginians have signed up for expanded Medicaid, said Jeremiah Samples, assistant to DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling.
State officials anticipated about 65,000 residents to sign up for Medicaid in fiscal year 2014, he said.
About 135,000 West Virginians are newly eligible for Medicaid since the program was expanded to those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, Samples said.