When COVID-19 first hit Arizona in early 2020, the job market was turned upside down and thousands of residents were left unemployed. That meant many Arizonans were left without affordable health insurance at the start of a public health crisis.
With 2021 coming to a close, the number of uninsured people in the state has decreased significantly.
A new report from QuoteWizard, a subsidiary of LendingTree, used U.S. Census data to determine the number of people in Arizona without health coverage has declined by 23% since January. Approximately 13% of the population was uninsured in January 2021, which has gone down to 10%. The U.S. average was 14% and is now 12% in comparison.
Nick VinZant, senior research analyst at QuoteWizard and one of the report’s authors, said the number of uninsured went hand-in-hand with the job market.
“Health insurance is something that weighs very heavily on people’s minds, especially in a pandemic,” he said. “And what we have largely found is that health insurance is pretty much hand-in-hand with job. Most people’s insurance in Arizona — 75% of people with health insurance — have it through private health care insurance usually provided by their jobs. So as people get their jobs back, then they get their health insurance back.”
Arizona’s unemployment rate as of August was 6.2%.
While the report shows Arizona still has the 15th highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation, states with higher rates are significantly higher. Maine, for example, saw a 124% increase in its uninsured residents, while states like Minnesota had a 40% decrease in its uninsured rate.
Arizonans can access insurance through private means through work, or public means like the federal marketplace set up through the Affordable Care Act, or through programs like Medicaid or Medicare.
Health insurance open enrollment through the ACA runs from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, 2022. Unlike the open enrollment offered by the federal marketplace, Medicaid has no deadline to enroll. If you qualify financially, you can apply online at HealthEArizonaPlus.gov at any time to get your mental, physical and behavioral health needs covered. Others might qualify medically for the Arizona Long Term Care System.
In addition to the slowbut- steady return of the workforce, VinZant pointed to safeguards in the federal American Recovery Act that helped people who lost insurance at a critical junction. The act covered typically exorbitant COBRA premiums for those who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic and were allowed to keep their health insurance until they could find employment again.
“So not only does it safeguard their health, but it’s also a huge psychological burden that is lifted as well,” he said.
While the majority of the state’s population is insured privately, a good number of Arizonans rely on public insurance for their medical needs. The rate of people on public insurance, such as Medicaid or Medicare, went from 24% to 22% from January to September.
Heidi Capriotti, spokeswoman for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s version of Medicaid, said the Medicaid population has grown “significantly.” In fact, it’s grown to include over 2 million people for the first time in history, now up to about 2.3 million members in Arizona.
Capriotti said that influx of Medicaid recipients is largely owed to maintenance of efforts requirements in the federal CARES Act, which allocated an additional 6% matching rate for Medicaid programs in the U.S. Those who received the funds, including Arizona, would not be allowed to disenroll anyone throughout the entirety of the public health emergency.
“Traditionally, Medicaid programs see a lot of churn,” she said. “People get jobs and lose jobs. So they come off and on the program as they qualify and as they need it. So once the public health emergency started in March of 2020, all of those disenrollments stopped. With a few exceptions, we didn’t disenroll anyone unless they passed away or moved out of state.”
Disenrollments have not begun as the federal government has continued to extend the public health emergency every 90 days, she said.
But Capriotti said the job market also had an impact on public programs as well.
“The job market affects Medicare in terms of whether people are employed or not,” she said. “So we saw a lot of unemployment during the very beginning of the pandemic and therefore a lot more people qualified for Medicaid. While the number of Medicaid recipients booms and the federal government stipulation remains in place, Capriotti said a lot of work must be done to determine how best to disenroll people when the time comes in Arizona and elsewhere.
“I know that most Medicaid programs are in the same position where they haven’t disenrolled anyone during the course of the public health emergency,” she said. “And so all states will be looking at when that public health emergency ends, how do we make sure that we are just disenrolling people who legitimately no longer financially qualify and doing that in a very methodical and careful way so that we’re not inadvertently disenrolling anyone who still qualifies?”
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