JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic has caused a national increase in the number of people enrolling in the federal Medicaid health payment program and officials have said Alaska residents are joining at unprecedented levels.
Over the last six months, more than 12,000 people in Alaska have joined Medicaid, known in the state as DenaliCare and Denali KidCare, Alaska Public Media reported Friday.
Alaska’s program covered 232,735 participants as of Aug. 31, or nearly one out of three state residents, including most children.
Alaska’s Medicaid enrollment increase of more than 5% is still smaller than most other states have reported.
Among those taking out the coverage in Alaska at the highest levels are women and people living in northern, western and southwest Alaska. The highest concentration of new enrollments has been among young adults.
Job losses are among the top reasons for the increase.
The federal government now pays a larger share of the costs for most Medicaid program members, covering 56.2% instead of the normal equal percentage split between the federal and state governments.
As a term of the increased payment coverage, the federal government prevents the state from dropping people from the program during the pandemic. The state can only end Medicaid coverage for people who have died, moved out of state or asked to be removed.
“The intent is really to keep more people eligible during the pandemic and not have folks without health care,” said Shawnda O’Brien, the director of the Alaska Division of Public Assistance who oversees Medicaid enrollment.
Alaska previously experienced a Medicaid enrollment jump five years ago when the program was expanded under the Affordable Care Act.
Enrollment increased from 125,616 in September 2015 to 219,260 at the end of 2019, with most of the increase due to the expansion.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.