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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

December 16, 2014 at 1:30 PM

State insurance exchange working well for Medicaid

Entry point for enrolling in Apple Health.

Entry point for enrolling in Apple Health.

Washington’s exchange website — the one that has struggled with glitches in its sales of insurance plans — is smoothly managing its Medicaid accounts. Since October, the exchange has been automatically renewing Medicaid enrollees with no significant problems. In December alone, some 150,000 Medicaid participants automatically re-enrolled in the program.

Approximately 1.6 million state residents are in Medicaid, which is locally called Apple Health. Because people can sign up for federal program at anytime, they come up for renewal throughout the year.

“Making the renewal process for Washington Apple Health clients as seamless as possible is a top priority for us, and we are pleased that is happening so that people can continue accessing the care they need,” said MaryAnne Lindeblad, state Medicaid director at the Health Care Authority, in an email.

The exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder, is the entry point for people enrolling in Medicaid as well as those shopping for insurance as individuals or small businesses. The  website launched in October 2013.

Since the launch, 480,000 new participants have signed up for Medicaid. That includes people who were previously eligible for the free health-care program but had not enrolled, as well as people who are newly eligible to participate in Medicaid. Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Washington is one of 27 states that elected to expand who qualifies for Medicaid in order to bring the program to more low-income people.

State officials have been pleased with the increase in the number of Medicaid participants, which has greatly surpassed their sign-up goals.

The state co-localized the enrollment process for Medicaid and private insurance coverage at one website to make it easier for people to move between the two insurance options. As a resident’s income increases and decreases, that person might move in and out of eligibility for Medicaid, requiring him or her to purchase insurance when income surpasses a federal threshold.

People whose income has changed significantly will need to do a manual renewal. But so far this month, 62 percent of participants needing to renew in December have been able to do so automatically. “This is a huge savings in the workload because it doesn’t require staff to look at every single case,” said Amy Johnson, an HCA manager in the area of Medicare and Medicaid eligibility.

Though people can enroll in Medicaid year round, the number could jump up during the insurance open enrollment period as some people go to Healthplanfinder planning to buy coverage and discover that they qualify for free health care. Open enrollment for individuals buying coverage runs from Nov. 15 until Feb. 15.

“We may see a little [enrollment] bump,” said Amy Blondin, spokeswoman for the Health Care Authority, a state agency. “We don’t know yet.”

Medicaid in Washington is available to adults with an income of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That comes to $16,105 for a single person and $32,913 for a family of four.

Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, Apple Health, Medicaid

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