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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As pandemic ends, state works to ensure coverage to those who might lose Medicaid

As the pandemic erased jobs and suddenly left thousands of people without employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, many enrolled in the government’s Medicaid program.

Today, as the job market rebounds and people earn too much money to qualify for the Medicaid safety net, the state is working to ensure people don’t slip through coverage gaps by extending their eligibility.

From March 2020 to March 2022, about 349,000 more Washington residents enrolled in Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program. The influx brought the number of people participating in the program to 2.18 million. To qualify for the program, a single person must make less than $1,563 a month. It’s also available for pregnant women who live at or below 193% of the federal poverty level, as well as children and teens in households that meet income limits.

Last month, the state Department of Health and Human Services extended the public emergency another 90 days into July, giving state agencies even more lead time to prepare for what the end of the public health emergency means for Medicaid beneficiaries. So far the state has not kicked anyone off of the government’s health insurance program.

Officials are not anticipating a massive cut to the Medicaid rolls once the pandemic ends. Instead the state will provide Medicaid enrollees a 60-day notice before their coverage is set to expire. If a person’s income and status still qualify for Apple Health, nothing should change.

The federal government has promised states will receive a 60-day notice ahead of the public health emergency ending so that states can begin to notify Medicaid enrollees.

“The federal government has given us 12 months to unwind these activities,” said Amy Dobbins, an eligibility policy manager at Apple Health. “If the pandemic is declared over in July, then in August we’d start with those who have a renewal notice, so they could respond before coverage will be lost, and we’ll continue to spread those out on their renewal dates.”

In Washington, coverage can roll over from Apple Health into the state’s insurance exchange, where people can buy coverage and perhaps qualify for subsidies.

“We are lucky that we do have a state-based exchange and it’s shared in real time, so if someone loses Apple Health in real time they are referred over to a qualified health plan,” Dobbins said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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