Medicaid funding the top priority for Washington Health Care Authority

Over 2 million Washingtonians are currently enrolled in Medicaid in the state, and more than 1,300 enroll in the program every week. Washington State Health Care Authority’s Maryanne Lindeblad explained how the state is expanding its services and working with health care providers at the Washington State of Reform Virtual Health Policy conference Wednesday.

The agency has attempted to tackle COVID-19-related challenges in many ways, she said.  For example, the state ended all unrequested terminations of Medicaid enrollments, other than those initiated due to a death or an enrollee moving out of the state.


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The HCA also gave lower-income residents access to the technology they needed to continue to receive medical care. Lindeblad mentioned phones were distributed to some Medicaid recipients so they could remain in communication with their doctor.

“We had to really quickly pivot in the way that care was delivered,” Lindeblad said. “We want to make sure our members are served, and make sure they have access to services.”

The agency works with health plans so members continue to have access to their providers.

Behavioral health is a priority for the HCA, as well. Governor Jay Inslee included funding for the expansion of Medicaid behavioral health services in his biennial budget last year after a recommendation from the HCA.

“We need to make more investment in the state to make sure we have access and adequate networks for our behavioral health clients,” said Mich’l Needham, chief policy officer of the HCA.

The biennial budget is the main priority for the HCA, Needham said. The ability to sustain the many programs instituted as a result of COVID-19 last year is their main priority. Funding for the program that distributed cell phones to Medicaid enrollees in need ended at the start of the new year. The HCA wants to make sure the other programs can continue for as long as needed.

“I will stress the main focus is the budget, making sure that we can sustain these coverage programs, serve our clients and maintain access to care,” Needham said.

Another priority is future-proofing health care policy and technology across the state. Needham wants to improve the communication infrastructure within the state’s health care network. She refers to the systems as “pre-Star Wars, Atari-based” technology that limit the ability for health care professionals across the state to communicate with one another.

David Iseminger, director of the HCA Employees and Retirees Benefits Division, highlighted other programs that must be updated for the future.

“Our (long-term disability) benefit has been stagnant and stayed the same virtually since the late 70s,” Iseminger said. “We are going to be encouraging the boards to look at a re-design of that benefit to ensure that there are more people who have better LTD coverage come 2022.”

Nearly 25 percent of the state’s workers will need disability benefits at some point in their lives, Iseminger said.