By Margot Sanger-Katz
Since February, when the Biden administration reopened the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, two million Americans have signed up for coverage, health officials announced Wednesday.
Total enrollment in the Obamacare marketplaces is now at a record high, though the final numbers are not yet available, said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in a call with reporters. The previous high was 12.7 million Americans who selected plans in 2016.
Enrollment in Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, has also reached a record high. A total of 81 million Americans were covered by Medicaid in February, the most recent month with complete data.
The increases reflect a growing demand for insurance coverage during the pandemic, when many Americans lost job-based coverage or became more worried about remaining uninsured. But they also reflect major policy changes this year: Congress passed legislation that substantially lowered the price of insurance for nearly all Americans buying their own coverage.
“A lot of Americans are on the edge — they are trying to figure out if they can afford that coverage,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services. “If you give them that opportunity, they’ll sign up.”
This is the first recession since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 law meant in part to provide a safety net for Americans who do not get health coverage through their work. That law now looks more secure than ever, after surviving a third challenge to its legitimacy at the Supreme Court last month.
In addition to the new money, the Biden administration has opened the doors for new enrollees and aggressively advertised the opportunities. People are typically allowed to enroll in A.C.A. coverage for only a brief period in the fall. Citing the pandemic, Biden administration officials established a much longer enrollment period this year. Signups were reopened in mid-February and will remain available until Aug. 15.
The government has also been paying for marketing to spread the word about the extended enrollment period and the new subsidies.
Although A.C.A. markets grew more stable in recent years, Trump administration officials took fewer steps to encourage Americans to seek coverage. They slashed funding for outreach and advertising, and made the enrollment period shorter than it had been under the Obama administration.
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