Oregon’s Medicaid Ranks Rise Past 1.2 Million


Oregon’s Medicaid program has topped the 1.2-million member mark, as the COVID-19-induced economic slump persists in the state.

The Oregon Health Plan’s membership hit 1.202 million earlier this month, up 123,200 members from when the state declared a state of emergency on March 8.

Each additional member costs the state about $6,000 a year. The state said it has enough money to cover the swelling ranks at least through March 31, courtesy of emergency funding from the federal government.

In the spring, Congress boosted Medicaid funding for states by 6.2% through Dec. 31. The federal Department of Health and Human Services then extended the emergency funding through March 31, said Oregon Health Authority spokeswoman Allyson Hagen.

The increase amounts to about $20 million a month for Oregon.

“The increased (federal money) is still covering program costs,” Hagen said.

Before the pandemic, Oregon’s Medicaid membership stood at about 1 million, costing about $6 billion a year, with the federal government paying about three-quarters and the state funding the rest.

As residents have lost their jobs and their employer-provided insurance, they’ve turned to the taxpayer-funded system.

The pandemic-induced economic crisis drove the ranks of Oregon’s unemployed to 312,000 in April, up from 80,000 before the pandemic hit. Since then, Oregon employers have steadily brought back many workers. The number of unemployed was down to 150,000 in September, according to the latest data from the Oregon Employment Department.

That economic rebound seems to have spared the Oregon Health Plan from the massive increase in membership that some forecasts had predicted.

The pandemic has hit different states’ Medicaid programs with vastly different impacts.

Kentucky, for example, had 1.2 million Medicaid members before the pandemic hit.

But the rolls expanded by about 350,000 people by June as the number of jobless soared. That’s the biggest increase in Medicaid membership among 26 states, according to a report by a group of academics published on the academic website Health Affairs. Kentucky state Medicaid officials aggressively promoted the availability of the health insurance to state residents as the pandemic took hold, according to news reports.

The next-largest increases were around 200,000 members apiece in Indiana, Arizona and Minnesota.

The study said the Medicaid enrollment increases were determined not solely by rising unemployment, but also by Medicaid enrollment policies, which vary from state to state.

The study found that in the 26 states it looked at, Medicaid enrollment grew by a total of 1.7 million in the March-June period.

States expect Medicaid enrollment and spending to increase by more than 8% from the fiscal year that ended last June to the current fiscal year, which ends June 2021, according to a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The increase is due to two factors, the report said: a slumping economy, in which workers have lost jobs and health insurance, and the federal requirement that in order to receive the temporary 6.2% Medicaid funding boost, states largely cannot push members out of Medicaid while the pandemic emergency persists. Under this federal requirement, states cannot bump Medicaid members if their income increases and exceeds Medicaid cut-off levels. States can only bump members in tightly limited circumstances, for example if they move out of state, are incarcerated, or voluntarily leave the health plan.

In Oregon, prior to the pandemic, about 20,000 people a month left Medicaid, because of income increases or other factors. During the pandemic, only about 5,000 a month are exiting the plan, the state has said.

You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].



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