Affordable Care Act health insurance markets just hit a record high: 16.3 million people subscribes to insurance also known as Obamacare.
That’s one million more people than the number of people enrolled in ACA health insurance last year. (Registration is closed on Healthcare.gov, but still open in state markets in California, Washington, DC, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island through January 31.)
“Registrations at Healthcare.gov are up 50% since President Biden took office,” Ambassador Susan Rice, the president’s domestic policy adviser, told reporters on Wednesday. Among the enrollees were 3.6 million people who were new to the market, she added, people who “will now have the peace of mind that health insurance brings”.
What is driving the upward trend? The big reason is that the plans are cheaper for people than before. The federal government has injected billions of dollars in recent years into subsidies to reduce costs for consumers.
Health officials say 4 in 5 enrollees qualify for plans that cost $10 or less per month. And 5 million uninsured people are eligible for zero-dollar premium plans, according to a recent analysis of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Another reason more people are signing up is probably that there is more logistical support. The Affordable Care Act created a program of “browsers” – people across the country who are trained to help consumers understand their options and enroll in a health plan. It is a service paid for through government grants.
The Trump Administration reduced funding for this program. The Biden Administration shored it up. Katie Roders Turner is Executive Director of Family Health Foundation. His organization is part of the Tampa Bay Navigator Project in Florida, which has grown from a team of 16 navigators to 35 this year, more than double the staff.
“This year we really picked up our pace,” said Roders Turner. “We really succeeded in spreading the need and the demand among these browsers.”
Tears of Joy in Central Florida
One of the people his organization helped in recent weeks was Erin Dimmig. She and her husband, Tyler, are 30 and live in Plant City, Florida. At the moment she describes herself as “very pregnant” – she is due to give birth to her first child in February.
This fall, “my husband got a new job offer and that put him in a 90-day insurance gap, and we were due in 60 days,” she explains. They couldn’t afford to keep paying for the insurance they got from his old job — COBRA was going to cost them $1,600 a month.
She says she didn’t know where to start looking for alternatives. She googled her way to Healthcare.gov, the federal market used by Florida and 32 other states. (State-Based Sites can also be viewed through Healthcare.gov).
She started answering questions like household size, income, and other details. “Once you hit the ‘you’re pregnant’ button, there are all kinds of confusing questions, and I was completely overwhelmed,” she says.
She clicked on the directory to find browsers in his area and found a local community center on the list. Soon the Dimmigs went to see navigator Jorge Masson.
“We went through the whole process with Jorge. He helped us choose a plan that worked for us. It actually worked better to split our insurance,” she says. “It’ll end up saving us about $9,000 with childbirth and all that. I cried when we found out we were going to save a lot of money.”
Switch gears to manage Medicaid enrollment
Biden administration health officials don’t have much time to celebrate the success of open enrollment as a huge challenge looms: How to keep millions from going uninsured as the Medicaid pandemic rules sunset ?
After the declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency in 2020, states were not allowed to require people to fill out forms confirming they were still eligible. As a result, new people signed up, but no one unsigned, and the program swelled. About 90.9 million people now have Medicaid or CHIP, the children’s health insurance program.
Starting in April, states will be able to start “redeterminations” again. More than 15 million people could lose Medicaid during this process, according to an estimate from the Department of Health and Human Services. out this summer. Analysis suggests nearly half of those who lose coverage will do so because of administrative issues – such as difficulty completing paperwork to reapply – not because they are no longer eligible for coverage. .
The agency responsible for both Medicaid and the insurance markets – the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services – is working feverishly to ease this transition and limit the number of people who are no longer insured.
When open enrollment ends, some navigators who had been brought in to help will return to other roles with their community organizations, but federal health officials say they hope the support system remains in place to to be able to help people who find themselves deregistered from Medicaid in the spring.
“Last year, we included additional browser funding — to the tune of $12 million — to be exercised upon unwinding,” Ellen Montz, deputy administrator and director of the Center for Consumer Information and Information, told reporters. insurance oversight at CMS. This funding “has come at a time that will allow navigator organizations to keep their enrollment staff open and move into the rollout process.”
Roders Turner in central Florida says his navigators are ready to help people as the rollout begins April 1.
“We have an incredible group of people who are willing to be part of the workforce to help with the Medicaid outcome – identifying options for people exiting Medicaid, or helping them complete the applications necessary to maintain their cover,” she says. “We’re definitely prepared — and we know we’re going to be needed — as Medicaid unfolds.”
Note: This story originally aired and was published on January 13. It was updated on January 25.