For more information

Information about Medicaid eligibility in South Carolina and the new Medicaid online application can be accessed online, apply.scdhhs.gov, or by phone, 1-888-549-0820.

The federal health insurance marketplace is available online, www.healthcare.gov, or by phone, 1-800-318-2596.

For more past coverage of Medicaid and the federal Affordable Care Act, visit www.postandcourier.com/obamacare.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, the state’s largest private insurer, started accepting online applications for health insurance in 2000.

Thirteen years later, the South Carolina Medicaid agency caught up.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever taken online applications,” said S.C. Medicaid Director Tony Keck. “It’s part of our Medicaid eligibility system overhaul. This is phase one.”

It’s also part of the federal Affordable Care Act, which mandates that every state upgrade their Medicaid programs.

More than 770 South Carolinians submitted an online application for Medicaid last week. Tuesday was the first day the state agency allowed beneficiaries to apply online. The agency averaged hundreds more submissions per day last week than normal, Keck said.

Before Tuesday, residents who needed to apply for Medicaid in South Carolina had to sign up over the phone or fill out an application in person.

At least 36 other states already accept online applications for Medicaid, according to a January 2013 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The S.C. Medicaid online application launch coincided with the start of open health insurance enrollment through the new federal health insurance marketplace, which was established by the Affordable Care Act.

It’s not yet clear how many of the hundreds of online Medicaid applications filed last week will be approved, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

Medicaid, a program funded by a combination of state and federal money, provides health insurance to qualifying residents with low income. The South Carolina Medicaid program already covers roughly 20 percent of all residents here. More than half of Medicaid beneficiaries in the state are children.

Eligibility rules for Medicaid vary state by state. In South Carolina, healthy adults without children do not qualify for the program, regardless of their poverty level.

The Affordable Care Act was originally designed to expand Medicaid eligibility to any resident in the country who earns up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, a little less than $16,000 a year for single adults.

But the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012 that states could decline to participate in Medicaid expansion, because each state would eventually need to pay for part of the expansion costs, although never more than 10 percent of the total bill. South Carolina leaders decided to opt out.

Keck said the Medicaid agency predicts enrollment will grow by about 170,000 next year anyway, even without changing the eligibility rules.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.