WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Enrollment in U.S. government-run health insurance program Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic grew 16%, with more than 11 million additional Americans signing up, the Department of Health and Human Services said on Friday.
Safety nets like Medicaid and re-opening enrollment through the Affordable Care Act helped stabilize uninsured rates even while millions lost employer-related health insurance coverage as the pandemic rattled the U.S. economy, the department said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in many ways, yet today’s report shows we made significant strides to protect Americans’ health,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The pandemic disrupted the federal surveys that the HHS relies on for coverage estimates, the agency said in a report here tracking health insurance coverage. It added lower response rates, especially among lower income and younger respondents, may have affected the accuracy of its estimates.
The data showed a stable uninsured rate in 2020, with estimates ranging from 8.6% to 9.7% of the population, about 28-31.6 million people. Around 30 million U.S. residents were uninsured in 2019, before the pandemic, federal surveys show.
The uninsured rate was significantly higher in Hispanic populations at 18.3%, residents of states that did not expand Medicaid coverage at 17.6%, people below the poverty line at 17.2%, and Black populations at 10.4%, Friday’s report showed.
Addressing these disparities is a top priority for the President Joe Biden’s administration, the department said.
The data comes ahead of the enrollment period for the online health insurance marketplace created by the ACA, also known as Obamacare, for 2022, set to open on Monday and close on Jan. 15.
Around 2.8 million people signed up for health insurance on government website Healthcare.gov www.healthcare.gov after Biden re-opened enrollment for a special period from Feb. 15 to Aug. 15 in part because of the pandemic.
The Democrat ran in 2020 on a promise to curb growing inequality, including expanding access to healthcare and affordable drugs amid a pandemic that has killed over 745,000 people so far.
Biden presented a negotiated social spending plan on Thursday to Congress and voters.
It expands ACA premium tax credits through 2025 and adds coverage of hearing costs for people 65 and older, but notably lacked significant Medicare and Medicaid coverage expansions as well as drug price reform.
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