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Medicaid Enrollment Reaches Record High During Pandemic

Thanks to a rule change preventing enrollees from getting kicked off the program during the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment is at an all-time high. The Biden administration wants it even higher.

WASHINGTON (CN) — During the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of Americans on Medicaid reached a record-breaking 74 million, according to new federal data released Monday. 

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicaid participants increased by 15% — or 9.7 million people — from February 2020 to January 2021.

In addition to the economic fallout from the global pandemic, the agency attributes the majority of the increase in enrollment to the March 2020 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which gave states a 6.2% increase in funding for Medicaid costs if they ensured that individuals could stay enrolled throughout the duration of the pandemic. Previously, there was considerable turnover in enrollment due to fluctuating incomes. 

President Joe Biden said that the rule change enacted under his predecessor Donald Trump will continue through the end of the year. 

CMS says it also implemented numerous strategies during the pandemic to give states more support and flexibility in their operations of Medicaid and CHIP, short for Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“The increase we are seeing is exactly how Medicaid works: the program steps in to support people and their families when times are tough,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement. “CMS is committed to ensuring our nation’s marginalized communities and low-income families have the coverage they need.”

About half of participants, 38.3 million, were children enrolled in both Medicaid and CHIP, though CHIP enrollment remained relatively stable over the past year, increasing 1.8% from 6.7 million to 6.8 million, as states weren’t mandated to keep their enrollees throughout the pandemic. 

Together, the two programs have a combined enrollment of 80.5 million.

“This report reminds us what a critical program and rock Medicaid continues to be in giving tens of millions of children and adults access to care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Monday. “This pandemic taught us that now more than ever, we must work to strengthen Medicaid and make it available whenever and wherever it’s needed using the unprecedented investments Congress provided.”

The Biden administration has been working to expand the public insurance program by targeting the 12 states which have refused to accept the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act.  

Democrats are discussing how to aid more than 2 million low-income individuals who live in holdout states in buying health insurance, ranging from legislation allowing cities and counties to bypass state decisions to providing extra incentives for states. 

The administration also created a special enrollment period to sign up for Medicaid, which lasts through August — a lengthy extension considering previous enrollments have lasted only six weeks.

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