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"Medicaid unwinding" and its effect in Washington and Idaho

Courtesy Providence Health
With the Covid epidemic emergency formally ending, Washington and Idaho state officials will soon reach out to people on Medicaid to determine if they will still qualify for coverage.

Many Medicaid patients will lose their coverage in April when expanded coverage expires.

On April 1, many people now on Medicaid in Washington and Idaho will lose their federally-subsidized care. That’s the day when Covid pandemic era rules that have allowed people to stay on the Medicaid rolls will lapse.

“What happened during the pandemic was that, in order to ensure that as many people had health insurance as possible, the federal government allowed states to keep people in Medicaid just to be sure they have some insurance during the pandemic," said Michael Marchand from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Marchand says Washington state officials will soon begin determining which people can stay on Medicaid and which will have to move on to something else. That's a process that has been named "Medicaid unwinding."

“Roughly half of the people, on average, right now, will probably stay in Medicaid, but another half will have an opportunity to get federal tax credits and maybe even additional state financial assistance to buy a qualified health plan. And for those individuals that will start in April," he said.

The state will open a special enrollment period to run all of April. Marchand says the Washington Health Care Authority will soon reach out to people who are losing coverage to tell them their options.

During the pandemic, states weren’t allowed to remove people from Medicaid coverage unless they moved away, died, or asked to be removed. With the emergency declaration ending later this year, states are now allowed to trim their Medicaid rosters. Idaho is already working on it.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is sending letters that ask recipients to get in touch to find out if they still qualify for Medicaid. The people who get the messages will have 60 days to respond.

The state estimates 150,000 people either have an unclear status, or won’t qualify to stay under the Medicaid umbrella once the public health emergency ends.

People who are set to be removed from Medicaid coverage will be referred to the state’s health insurance exchange, Your Health Idaho, to find out about other options.

The Department of Health and Welfare says it will send out about 30,000 of the notification letters per month through July. The status reviews are expected to be finished by September.

The department says its timeline to trim Medicaid enrollment is one of the fastest in the nation. That rush was prompted in part by the Idaho legislature, where some lawmakers have cast a dubious eye on the state’s Medicaid spending.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.
Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.