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OFM’s August report on the estimated impact of COVID-19 on Washington State’s health coverage

In its latest report on the impact of COVID-19 on Washington State’s Health Coverage, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) assessed the state’s uninsured rate, health coverage changes of newly unemployed workers, and changes in uninsured rates at the county level.

In the second half of March through May 23, 2020, unemployment claims surged in Washington and the state’s uninsured rate increased to 13% – the peak level during the pandemic. 

In their August report, OFM found that the uninsured rate has since declined to 8.5% in the week ending on August 8. From the beginning of 2020 – prior to the outbreak – to the weeks ending on May 23 and August 8, the state’s estimated total uninsured bounced from 502,300 to 1,010,700 and most recently to 657,400.

Amid the first ten weeks of pandemic induced closures, starting on March 15, more than one million workers in Washington filed unemployment insurance claims. As a result, many workers and their family members lost their employment-based health insurance

COVID-19 kicked what was previously a slow creep into overdrive. Washington’s uninsured rate had been on the rise even before the pandemic; it is estimated to have increased from 6.2% in 2018 to 6.6% in 2019 and to 6.7% at the beginning of 2020. 

Looking at the health coverage of newly unemployed workers, a disproportionate impact is clear, according to OFM’s analysis. The uninsured rate for the newly unemployed is estimated to have catapulted from 10.5% prior to the pandemic in 2020 to 48.1% in the week ending on August 8. 

During this same timeframe, the employment-based health insurance coverage rate of these workers plummeted to 12.3%, down from 61.1%.  Their rate of coverage by two or more sources dropped by more than half from 9.3% to 3.6%. OFM did find, however, that some of coverage rates from other sources increased.

Their shares of coverage by individual health plans (mostly through the Exchange) and by Medicaid (or Apple Health) are higher now than before. The share of individual health plans as the only coverage increased from 6% to 8.7% and the share of Medicaid as the only coverage increased from 10.3% to 21.6%,” wrote OFM.

Moving on to changes in uninsured rates at the county level, OFM found that the significant degree of variation across the state, which existed before the pandemic, has continued on. During the week ending on May 23, when the state’s uninsured rate peaked, the county-level uninsured rates ranged from 6.2% in Asotin County to 20.7% in Yakima County. The current range, for the week ending on August 8, is between 4.3% in Lincoln at the low end and 17.6% in Yakima. 

Prior to the pandemic, the rates ranged from 3.9% in Wahkiakum to 16.3% in Yakima.

In this data set, OFM found that the greatest shift during the pandemic occurred within counties, rather than between them.

The shifts in the ranges of county uninsured rates during the pandemic were modest when compared to changes in many counties with uninsured rates falling within the ranges. In the week ending on May 23, eight counties had uninsured rates that were more than double the rates before the pandemic. Pierce County’s uninsured rate increased by 141.6%, the largest increase of all counties.” 

While uninsured rates dropped in every county since May 23, the rate in three counties – King, Snohomish, and Pierce – remains significantly higher than rates before the pandemic. 

To conduct this analysis, OFM  simulated the changes in employment as of the week ending on August 8, 2020, using the 2018 American Community Survey.

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