Thousands of Washingtonians could soon lose Medicaid, or Apple Health, coverage: Federal pandemic-era provisions are expiring, and the state will once again require patients to renew their eligibility every year.
Starting April 1, federal Medicaid requirements will mandate for the first time in three years that states reconfirm patients' income and household size if they want to retain coverage.
In Washington, about 300,000 people will be up for plan renewal over the next year.
The renewal process usually happens every year, generally on the anniversary of Medicaid members' enrollment date. But during the pandemic, the country's public health emergency in part ensured those on Medicaid did not have to go through the annual renewal process to reestablish eligibility.
"A lot of people's whole financial situation was changing dramatically during the public health emergency and with some frequency," said Melissa Stevens, vice president of community engagement and growth at Community Health Plan of Washington, a Seattle-based health insurer.
"Not having to go through that renewal process made sure that everyone was still getting access to health care at a time that it was really critical for the whole country," she continued.
Nationwide, more than 91.3 million people had enrolled in Medicaid as of October 2022, nearly a 29% increase since early 2020, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.
The pandemic-era policy also helped boost enrollment in Apple Health (Washington's name for Medicaid) and lower our state's uninsured rate from 12.6% in May 2020, when unemployment claims surged, to 5.2% by June 2021, according to the state's Office of Financial Management.
The Kaiser Family Foundation also estimated that starting next month, between 5 million and 14 million Americans could lose Medicaid coverage as states require people to go through the renewal process.
Some Apple Health members will be automatically reenrolled because their income and citizenship status can be confirmed through federal and state verification systems, according to a recent post from Public Health — Seattle & King County.
Still, all Apple Health members should check their accounts to make sure their contact information is updated on the Washington Healthplanfinder website and then keep an eye out for a letter or email about their renewal date. If a member doesn't renew eligibility within 30 days of that date, they'll lose coverage, Stevens said.
Renewal paperwork will largely focus on questions about members' income, the number of people in their household, their ages and their Social Security number if applicable, Stevens said.
Those who are no longer eligible for Apple Health — for example, if their income increased — can buy a Qualified Health Plan, a state-approved private health insurance plan, through Washington Healthplanfinder. Although the state's open enrollment period ended in January, anyone who loses Apple Health coverage in the coming year will be able to apply for another plan during a 60-day special enrollment period.
There are some affordable options, including Cascade Care or Cascade Select plans that often offer monthly premiums of $10 or less, Stevens said.
"We're particularly concerned about people who could be eligible but might miss the opportunity to go through the renewal process because they didn't receive the notification from the state," she said. "Nothing's more important than making sure they get to maintain their coverage if they're eligible, or that they get help to transition to another plan so they have access to quality care."