396,000 Arkansans enroll in health insurance marketplace, Medicaid expansion coverage

More than 396,000 Arkansans have health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act marketplace or Medicaid expansion as federal officials report increasing national enrollment numbers.

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

According to the agency's latest data, 396,254 Arkansas residents have coverage related to the Affordable Care Act. A record number of Arkansans selected plans through the federal HealthCare.gov exchange platform during the most recent open enrollment period, but federal data shows a decline in Medicaid expansion coverage as the Natural State returned to regular renewals with the end of the federal coronavirus public health emergency.

Officials released new enrollment data on the eve of the 14th anniversary of then-President Barack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act into law. The statute, commonly known as "Obamacare," provides Americans with tax credits for purchasing insurance coverage and allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra described the record enrollment number as a "milestone." Becerra backed the Affordable Care Act while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Fourteen years ago, the landscape in America changed forever," he told reporters. "Thanks to the vision and the grit of leaders like President Obama and President Biden, we've seen a transformation that's brought health insurance within reach for folks who might never even dreamed of it being possible."

Becerra left Capitol Hill in January 2017 to become California's attorney general. During his tenure, Becerra led Democratic state attorneys general in opposing a federal legal challenge threatening the health care law's legal standing. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately held up "Obamacare" in a June 2021 ruling.

According to federal data, 21.4 million Americans selected a health insurance plan through open enrollment between Nov. 1, 2023, and Jan. 16, 2024, including around 5 million individuals new to the health insurance marketplace. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted 16.4 million Americans selected marketplace plans in 2023 and 8 million people got coverage during the first enrollment period in 2014.

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

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

"That is a record number of people," Becerra said regarding the most recent 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 costs. The American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act funded premium tax credits, which officials say allowed four in five HealthCare.gov customers to purchase coverage for $10 or less per month through these subsidies.

"You can't go see a movie for $10 a day," the secretary said. "As I say, forget about popcorn and a refreshment as well."

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said the data is evidence the health care law "continues to deliver on its name."

"Everywhere I go, I encounter people whose lives changed for the better because of the Affordable Care Act," she added.

Congressional Republicans opposed the Biden administration's efforts to curb health care costs through these recent statutes. In a report covering their fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives said the subsidies hide the "true cost of health care."

The caucus proposes ending the subsidies in addition to rolling back other "Obamacare" policies to provide states with flexibility in offered models.

Enrollment through Medicaid expansion slightly declined nationwide from September 2022 to September 2023. Officials reported 18.6 million Americans newly enrolled in Medicaid as of September 2023 compared to 18.8 million people in September 2022.

The federal government provided states with a temporary increase in their Medicaid match rate amid the coronavirus pandemic as long as state agencies did not disenroll participants. At the conclusion of this policy on March 31, 2023, states administered an "unwinding" of their Medicaid rolls given the change in federal support.

Most states had one year to complete this process, but the Arkansas campaign occurred over six months due to state law.

Based on Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services data, 244,108 Arkansans were newly enrolled in Medicaid through the health care law's expansion provision last September compared to 326,906 people in September 2022. Officials noted 9,146 non-newly eligible Arkansas adults gained coverage through 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." Congressional Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to repeal and replace the law during Trump's time in office, and the former president never presented an alternative during his four years in the White House.

The Biden presidential campaign released an advertisement Friday featuring Trump's comments criticizing "Obamacare" with a call to action for voters to "protect your health care."

As Biden and Trump prepare for a general election rematch, Becerra acknowledged the political challenges to "Obamacare" and concerns regarding whether these efforts would threaten this program.

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

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