Washington health care officials say they hope President Trump declares a novel coronavirus emergency in the state soon, because that could clear the way for more people to be enrolled in Medicaid quickly.

The step could help relieve pressure now mounting on local health care systems during the outbreak, because Medicaid could help pay for more seniors to move from hospitals into nursing homes, said MaryAnne Lindeblad, Medicaid director at the Washington State Health Care Authority.

Public health experts have been warning that hospitals could be overwhelmed as coronavirus cases soar.

The state has requested special status under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, which would allow officials to waive various Medicaid requirements, Lindeblad said. For example, “people could attest to their incomes” and be enrolled right away, leaving the normal verification process for later, she said. The status also could potentially allow Washington to extend Medicaid income thresholds to cover more people, she added.

“When we have someone over 65 (years old) sitting in a hospital, taking up a bed, we need to help get that person out of the hospital and into a nursing home,” Lindeblad said.

“The nursing home isn’t going to take the person until the person can pay, and they may need Medicaid to help cover that,” she said.

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Section 1135 status, however, can be obtained only in areas where the president has declared an emergency or disaster. Trump has yet to do that for the state of  Washington.

In the meantime, officials here are hoping to streamline Medicaid enrollments and get emergency spending authorized using another section of the Social Security Act, Section 1115, that the feds can approve without presidential action, Lindeblad said.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn’t immediately return a request for comment. The agency’s staff have been “responsive in trying to help us,” but are grappling with bureaucratic challenges, Lindeblad said.

“We’re in regular contact,” she said. “We’re hoping for something soon.”

Washington residents can apply for Medicaid through Washington Apple Health at any time, year-round, using Washington Healthplanfinder, a health insurance marketplace created by the state in accordance with Affordable Care Act.

Staff reporter Scott Greenstone contributed to this story.

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