WA grapples with how to handle upcoming Medicaid disenrollments


Aaron Kunkler


Following a federal emergency declaration in March 2020, millions of Americans enrolled under Medicaid due to job loss and continuous coverage requirements. Up to 15 million of these enrollees nationwide are expected to lose coverage when the emergency declaration ends, and in Washington State, the number could be in the hundreds of thousands.


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A recent study published by the Urban Institute in September provided those national numbers. In Washington State, 300,000 people have enrolled in Medicaid programs since March 2020, said Amy Blondin, chief communications officer for the Washington State Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid programs. 

The public health emergency, and by extension Medicaid coverage, has been extended until at least Jan. 16, 2022. Blondin said as they prepare to handle disenrollments, they’re focusing on keeping the process simple for clients, keeping equity in mind, minimizing legal risk, and being conscious of the workload. The HCA has also begun holding listening sessions with stakeholders and community partners to figure out how to best transition. 

Of the 300,000 Medicaid enrollees who have joined since March 2020 in Washington State, Blondin said she did not know how many were at risk of being disenrolled. 

Sen. Annette Cleveland, chair of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, said she expects to hear from the Biden administration by Nov. 18 on whether the public health crisis will be extended. 

“We don’t know yet just how many people this might affect,” Cleveland said. “What we do know is that the Biden administration has assured our state that we’ll receive 60 days notice prior to the termination of the public health crisis.” 

The Urban Institute’s study found that nationwide, one-third of adults who are set to lose Medicaid coverage next year would be eligible for premium tax credits if the enhanced tax credits in the American Rescue Plan Act were made permanent. 

Cleveland said the state is exploring ways to make the transition seamless for people who will be disenrolled, including potentially renewing coverage for a year or providing people with adequate advanced notice. 

Marcia Stedman, president of Healthcare For All Washington, said her organization is involved at the policy level to help prevent massive disenrollments from taking place. 

Those policies include advocating for the state to support the new Universal Health Care Commission that’s being set up in Washington. Gov. Jay Inslee has yet to appoint members to the commission. 

Stedman said she hopes the commission will set up a universal health care plan under a unified form of financing. 

“This would eliminate the churn and dislocation of patients from their trusted health care providers,” Stedman said.

Cleveland said she looks forward to the commission being set up, and also pointed to the recently approved public option

“I’m feeling as if we’re working at all levels to make sure we’re continuing as a state to drive towards universal health coverage,” while preparing in the short term to respond to the public health crisis, Cleveland said.