Politics & Government

Ranks of Washington’s medically uninsured have fallen below 9 percent

The share of Washingtonians going without health insurance has fallen by nearly 40 percent, thanks to factors put in play by the federal Affordable Care Act.

That’s the word from the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, which estimates that the overall 970,000 of uninsured residents had fallen by 38 percent to about 600,000. That drops the uninsured rate to 8.65 percent of the state, down from about 14 percent, OIC spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said Wednesday.

Two factors are driving the change – enrollment in Medicaid, which is the federal and state shared program that offers free coverage to the poor, and rising enrollments in the private market for individuals.

OIC has said the individual market has grown to more than 327,000 – which was about 81,000 more insured people than were in the individual market on Oct. 1, the date that the Washington Health Benefit Exchange opened for enrollments for 2014 coverage. The individual market included 156,155 people buying private insurance policies through the exchange and 171,286 who bought policies outside the exchange.

The online exchange portal at Wahealthplanfinder.org is also a new way for low-income families to sign up for Medicaid. And it appears from data released this week by the state Health Care Authority that Medicaid is now serving 345,766 people who became newly eligible under the Affordable Care Act. Beth Luce, spokeswoman for the HCA, said data through July 10 showed an additional 190,865 new Medicaid enrollees who were already eligible before federal health care reform.

The Affordable Care Act raised income thresholds for eligibility, expanding coverage under the federal-state shared program to a broader swath of adults than ever.

Washington’s falling uninsured rate reflects developments in many states around the country, especially the more than two-dozen that expanded Medicaid. Several reports last week saw a national lowering of the rate since Oct. 1 – including the Commonwealth Fund’s finding that the share of the population still uninsured has fallen to 15 percent from 20 percent in the third quarter of 2013.

Marquis said analysts at the OIC were skeptical of some reports – such as one from web site WalletHub, which said Washington had the ninth best improvement in coverage rates and had cut its uninsured rate almost by half since Oct. 1. Marquis said analysts found that a little too optimistic.