By Barry Mitzman
Obamacare doesn’t get much love from Democratic presidential candidates other than Joe Biden, but new numbers from the Office of Financial Management highlight how much good it has done in Washington state, including Jefferson County—and how that progress is being eroded in the Trump era.
OFM reports that about 62,000 more Washington residents were without healthcare coverage in 2018 compared with the year before. The statewide uninsured rate increased to 6.2 percent from 5.5 percent in 2017.
In Jefferson County, the 2018 uninsured rate was 7.7 percent, up from 5.3 percent in 2016 and 6.5 percent in 2017. Although above the state average, Jefferson’s 2018 rate was lower than that of neighboring counties Clallam (8.3 percent), Mason (8.4 percent), and Grays Harbor (9.1 percent).
These numbers are a reversal of dramatic declines in the number of uninsured since the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion rolled out in 2014. In 2013, the statewide uninsured rate was 14.1 percent.
OFM says more people were uninsured in 2018 despite an increase in the number enrolled in employer plans, which cover nearly half of all Washingtonians. Gains in employer-based coverage, fueled by a strong economy, were more than offset by a 55,000 drop in Medicaid enrollment.
The Medicaid downturn coincided with news of the Trump administration’s plans to deny admission, visas, and Green Cards to immigrants who access such public benefits. The new “public charge” rules were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January and put into effect on February 24 this year.
Which may partially explain a big jump in the 2018 uninsured rate in Yakima County, to 15.1 percent—the highest of any Washington county—from 9.1 percent a year earlier. Double-digit uninsured rates for 2018 were recorded in central Washington counties from Okanogan to Wall Walla, but nowhere in western Washington.
Statewide, Medicaid enrollment continued to fall in 2019, and coverage via individual plans also fell, OFM says, which signals that the uninsured rate probably continued to rise last year.