January 28, 2023


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300K Oregonians may soon lose health coverage

The Oregon Health Authority is currently crafting plans to ensure that thousands of people don’t suddenly lose their coverage.

PORTLAND, Ore — With the COVID-19 public health emergency likely ending in the coming months, 300,000 Oregonians are set to lose their Medicaid coverage.

Throughout the pandemic, Oregon has maintained a continuous enrollment policy and did not drop anyone from the rolls during annual renewals, as provided under the Family First Coronavirus Recovery Act that Congress passed in March 2020.

The Oregon Health Plan grew by 300,000 to 1.2 million, helping Oregon achieve the highest rate of insurance coverage ever, at 95.4% in 2021. Far fewer people cycled on and off the program, with the “high churn” population dropping from 34% in September 2019 to just 8%.

The greatest coverage gains were among low-income adults making between 138% and 401% of the federal poverty level. Now 25,000 people per month could lose coverage.

The Oregon Health Authority is currently crafting plans to ensure that thousands of people don’t suddenly lose their coverage, said Jeremy Vandehey, director of Health Policy and Analytics at OHA. Vandehey testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Health Care, which will consider various strategies, including an affordable public option insurance plan, which the state was already moving toward.

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“Making sure we don’t go backwards as a state is the challenge ahead of us,” Vandehey said. “We’re continuing to talk to (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) and will be advocating for flexibility and creating paths to land folks softly into a new program that provides continuous coverage.”

The change won’t occur until the federal public health emergency ends, and the timing on that is unclear. The Omicron variant seems to be running its course, though cases and hospitalizations remain high.

Vandehey said OHA will do aggressive outreach to enrollees on an unprecedented scale. OHA could phase in the eligibility redeterminations for all 1.2 million people on Medicaid and place those at highest risk at the end of the process, he said. Often people are dropped from the program simply because they haven’t updated their contact information or returned their paperwork.

“You talk about a soft handoff or transitional process, and I want to make sure we really educate folks and they understand what that really means,” said Rep. Teresa Alsonso Leon.

Such a large-scale drop in coverage could affect hospitals’ bottom lines, as fewer insured patients would translate to an increase in charity care.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Sean Kolmer, senior vice president of policy and strategy for the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said during the public hearing.

Read more at the Portland Business Journal.