Why did Medicaid enrollment soar?

Now that health insurance exchanges have been open for one month, the enrollment numbers show more consumers are signing up for Medicaid than private policies.

It's an unexpected result of the online marketplaces, where most experts predicted large gains for private insurers. A majority of states didn't even expand their Medicaid program to oppose to the healthcare reform law. But in expansion states like Maryland, enrollment has favored Medicaid 25 times over private insurance.

Consumers in states that chose to expand Medicaid were pre-qualified for the enlarged state-federal joint program because they already were enrolled in low-income state healthcare. For example, Illinois is placing more than 100,000 residents who have received Medicaid coverage since 2011 into its newly expanded Medicaid program, reported Stateline.

Plus, the states that are expanding Medicaid have an incentive to enroll consumers into the program. Many of the states have launched aggressive outreach campaigns, including mailing letters to consumers enrolled in other safety-net programs. Oregon enrolled 70,000 new members in October by reaching out to consumers who receive food stamps, for example.

Some industry experts caution against making long-term assumptions on only one month's worth of enrollment data. The early numbers could simply indicate states' proven ability at outreach instead of demonstrating a larger imbalance in consumer preferences.

In Maryland, for example, the state's high Medicaid enrollment numbers are a result of the state automatically enrolling consumers in its existing primary adult care program, which offers minimum insurance coverage to low-income residents, into its expanded Medicaid program, the Washington Post reported.

Matt Salo, director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, told Stateline the early Medicaid enrollment numbers reflect "low hanging fruit."

What's more, technical glitches in states' online marketplaces are contributing to low enrollment numbers for private insurance plans. For example, Oregon signed up 56,000 consumers into its expanded Medicaid program while its exchange suffered technical problems preventing private insurers from enrolling any consumers, the Post noted.

To learn more:
- read the Stateline article
- see the Washington Post article

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