Applications for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) spiked throughout the nation during Obamacare’s first month of open enrollment, and skyrocketed in the states participating in the health law’s Medicaid expansion, according to preliminary monthly data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Tuesday. Nearly 1.5 million low-income Americans now have access to public health insurance.
Americans submitted nearly 2.5 million applications for Medicaid or CHIP coverage in October, and over 1.46 million of them were approved. That’s an 8.6 percent overall increase compared to the average number of applications submitted to state Medicaid agencies between July and September. Broken down by Medicaid expansion status, applications rose by a significant 4.1 percent even in states refusing the expansion — and a staggering 15.5 percent in the states accepting it — compared to the previous three months:
Earlier enrollment figures have also shown that the expansion of the public program for poor Americans has been one of the Affordable Care Act’s biggest success stories. According to the CMS data, Colorado, New Jersey, and Hawaii are among the states that saw the biggest spikes in Medicaid applications as news about Obamacare’s open enrollment period dominated headlines in October.
Another encouraging takeaway from the report is the increase in Medicaid applications even in states that refused Obamacare’s expansion of the program. Medicaid eligibility requirements in the states rejecting expansion are far more limited and vary wildly, making it difficult to communicate benefits to the poor and uninsured. But it appears that heavy public interest in Obamacare, along with state efforts to streamline the Medicaid application process, is producing what health policy experts refer to as “the woodwork effect” — in which people who were already eligible for Medicaid but didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it was worth applying for, are “coming out of the woodwork” to enroll. Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia were the five non-expansion states to see the biggest spikes in Medicaid applications in October.
“Many states that are not expanding Medicaid, but have implemented the simplifications and modernizations provided for in the law are seeing some increase in applications among already eligible but uninsured state residents,” CMS wrote in a commentary accompanying the October enrollment data. “For example, both South Carolina and Virginia attribute their increased application numbers not only to awareness about the new coverage opportunities, but also the increased use of their online applications and the other new modes of applying for coverage (e.g., phone) that are available.”
Nonetheless, that’s not an option for all of the low-income people living in the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. Over 5 million of the poorest Americans will fall into a coverage gap — making too much to qualify for public coverage under Medicaid, but too little to qualify for subsidies to buy private plans through the statewide Obamacare marketplaces — in the states refusing Medicaid expansion.
Applications for private insurance through the Healthcare.gov website are also on the rise. Some preliminary reports indicate that the pace of enrollment doubled over November, and significant improvements to the website brought over a million visitors to Healthcare.gov on Tuesday.