A record number of Maryland residents enrolled in health insurance through the state’s online marketplace this year, continuing a yearslong rise in coverage that accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic.
The health exchange created under the federal Affordable Care Act reported that 182,166 people signed up this year for the insurance, known as Obamacare, up slightly from last year but about 15% higher than before the pandemic.
“We’re very happy to continue to have success in reaching Marylanders in need of affordable health coverage,” said Michele Eberle, executive director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, which oversees the marketplace.
“Total enrollment has grown five consecutive years and by more than 15 percent since just before COVID-19 and the public health emergency,” Eberle said in a statement.
The majority of the bump this year was due to more people keeping their insurance than in previous years, on top of new enrollees.
The coverage is largely tapped by people who do not have access or do not buy insurance through their employer. The state repeatedly reopened enrollment during the pandemic to capture people who were laid off or needed care after a COVID-19 infection.
Exchange officials cited progress in enrolling people from minority communities, which have had disproportionately low enrollment numbers during the 10 years that people have been able to buy coverage under the federal program. When people were signing up for coverage for this year, enrollment by Black residents grew 3% and enrollment by Hispanic residents rose 9%. Enrollment by young adults in the Hispanic community rose the most, by 13%.
There were extra federal subsidies available during the pandemic. But those who did not qualify for extra aid rose 13%. The majority of people buying exchange insurance still get some subsidy.
The state also began a new program four years ago called “Easy Enrollment,” which allows residents to check a box on their tax forms and receive information on enrolling in health insurance. About 10,000 people have accessed coverage this way.
Residents also can now check a box on their unemployment insurance forms to get more enrollment information.
People can also use the exchange to determine if they qualify for Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. More than one in six Marylanders are enrolled already, and state exchange and health officials are preparing to move more people to options offered by one of three private insurance companies on the exchange once a federal public health emergency officially ends in the spring.
Residents had been allowed to remain in the program during the pandemic, and state officials estimate tens of thousands will no longer qualify.