396,000 Arkansas residents enroll in health insurance marketplace, Medicaid coverage expansion |  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
396,000 Arkansas residents enroll in health insurance marketplace, Medicaid coverage expansion |  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

WASHINGTON — More than 396,000 Arkansas residents have health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace or Medicaid expansion, as federal officials report rising national enrollment.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Friday that 45 million Americans have health insurance through marketplace plans or state efforts to expand Medicaid, a 12 percent increase from the agency’s March 2023 report on coverage under the health care law.

According to the agency’s latest figures, 396,254 Arkansas residents have coverage linked to the Affordable Care Act. A record number of Arkansas residents chose plans through the federal exchange platform HealthCare.gov during the latest open enrollment period, but federal data show a decline in Medicaid expansion coverage as the Natural State returned to regular renewals with the end of federal public healthcare with coronavirus emergency.

Officials released the new enrollment figures on the eve of the 14th anniversary of then-President Barack Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act. The statute, known as “Obamacare,” gives Americans tax credits to buy insurance coverage and allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra described the record enrollment as a “milestone.” Becerra supported the Affordable Care Act while in the US House of Representatives.

“Fourteen years ago, the landscape in America changed forever,” he told reporters. “Thanks to the vision and courage of leaders like President Obama and President Biden, we’ve witnessed a transformation that has made health insurance affordable for people who might not have dreamed it possible.”

Becerra left Capitol Hill in January 2017 to become California’s attorney general. During his tenure, Becerra led Democratic attorneys general in opposing a federal legal challenge threatening the legal status of the health care law. The US Supreme Court ultimately put Obamacare on hold in a June 2021 decision.

According to federal data, 21.4 million Americans chose a health insurance plan through open enrollment between November 1, 2023 and January 16, 2024, including about 5 million individuals who are new to the health insurance market. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted that 16.4 million Americans chose marketplace plans in 2023 and 8 million people gained coverage during the first enrollment period in 2014.

In Arkansas, 156,607 people chose plans during the most recent open enrollment period, a jump from 100,407 Arkansans during the 2023 mandate. Officials estimate that 143,000 Arkansans enrolled in marketplace plans as of last month.

Arkansas has relied on the HealthCare.gov platform since the first open enrollment.

“It’s a record number of people,” Becerra said of the latest numbers. “It’s a record on top of last year’s record.”

Becerra emphasized the impact of the Biden administration’s policies in helping consumers manage spending. The American Bailout and the Inflation Reduction Act funded premium tax credits that officials say allowed four out of five HealthCare.gov customers to buy coverage for $10 or less a month through those subsidies.

“You can’t go see a movie for $10 a day,” the secretary said. “Like I said, forget about popcorn and soft drinks.”

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said the data is evidence that the health law “continues to live up to its name.”

“Everywhere I go, I meet people whose lives have changed for the better because of the Affordable Care Act,” she added.

Republicans in Congress have opposed the Biden administration’s efforts to curb health care spending through these recent laws. In a report covering their fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, the House Republican Study Committee said the subsidies hide “the true cost of health care.”

The group proposes ending the subsidies in addition to repealing other Obamacare policies to give states flexibility in the models they offer.

Enrollment through the Medicaid expansion fell slightly nationwide from September 2022 to September 2023. Officials reported that 18.6 million Americans had recently enrolled in Medicaid as of September 2023, compared with 18.8 million people in September 2022

The federal government has granted states a temporary increase in Medicaid compliance rates amid the coronavirus pandemic, as long as state agencies don’t disenroll participants. At the end of this policy on March 31, 2023, states implemented a “roll-out” of their Medicaid rolls given the change in federal support.

Most states had a year to complete this process, but Arkansas’ campaign lasted six months because of state law.

Based on data from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, 244,108 Arkansas residents were newly enrolled in Medicaid through the health care expansion provision last September, compared to 326,906 in September 2022. Officials noted that 9,146 ineligible Arkansas adults gained coverage through the Medicaid expansion as of last September.

As Biden administration officials tout the health care law’s successes, former President Donald Trump has expressed interest in renewing the fight against Obamacare. Republicans in Congress have tried unsuccessfully to repeal and replace the law during Trump’s administration, and the former president never presented an alternative during his four years in the White House.

Biden’s presidential campaign they ran an ad Friday, featuring Trump’s comments slamming Obamacare with a call to action for voters to “protect your health care.”

As Biden and Trump prepare for a rematch in the general election, Becerra acknowledged the political challenges to Obamacare and concerns about whether the effort would jeopardize that program.

“They will take away health care and the peace of mind that comes with it from millions of Americans,” he said. “We won’t let that happen.”

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