07/29/2014 03:26 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2014

Express Lane Eligibility: A Common Sense Policy That Works

More good news on Obamacare came out recently. A new study from The Commonwealth Fund showed that the number of people without health insurance dropped by 9.5 million since late last summer. California, which experienced the greatest success with enrollment of any state, cut its percentage of those without health insurance in half. And when you put those findings next to other reports from Gallup, Rand, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, it's clear that many more people have the peace of mind that comes with having health care insurance. But there are still many people who are eligible for health insurance and need help enrolling. And many more are on waiting lists as states grapple with application backlogs. A forward-looking policy that originated in California is helping to reach that population and the results are clear -- it's working.

The concept behind Express Lane Eligibility (ELE) is quite simple. Why not allow those who are already verified as eligible for public assistance programs, such as food stamps or school lunches, to gain fast track enrollment into the state's Medi-Cal program which shares similar eligibility criteria? It would mean less paperwork for applicants, less bureaucratic red tape, and more people getting health care when they need it instead of when their problem becomes an emergency. A powerful pilot demonstration of the potential for Express Lane Eligibility was rolled out in 100 California schools, enrolling children into Medi-Cal (California's Medicaid program) from their application for the school lunch program. This pilot proved successful in improving the effectiveness of enrolling children into health insurance, and to that extent, was used as a foundation for developing the Express Lane Eligibility process as a national enrollment strategy for all states to enroll children.

More recently, states have begun to use a similar enrollment strategy to jump start enrollment into the new Obamacare Medicaid expansion. California began its "Express Lane Enrollment Project" in February of this year. In just five months, 190,000 adults and 35,000 children in California were enrolled in Medi-Cal based on their CalFresh (SNAP) enrollment, without having to fill out an additional application. Imagine the time, effort, and expense avoided by expediting the arrangements for these more than 200,000 individuals who were already eligible.

With several states facing application backlogs, this expedited enrollment strategy seems to make a lot of sense to move eligible applicants quickly to enrollment. Senator Rockefeller's legislation, which would continue funding for the popular and successful Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would also make ELE a permanent option for children, and should be enacted. And all states should be able to use this proven and common sense strategy on an ongoing basis to help adults and children renew their Medi-Cal coverage, in addition to being able to help them enroll for the first time.

The numbers are clear -- more uninsured parents and children are getting health care coverage. That's a very good thing. But implementing policies like Express Lane Eligibility that can help get those with limited resources access to health care in a streamlined and efficient way while generating administrative savings, well, that's a great thing.