Arizona

Record Numbers Sign Up for Obamacare Health Insurance in Arizona, USA – Cronkite News

Advocates are welcoming the surge in Affordable Care Act filing, saying it will benefit both patients and providers by allowing people to seek help before their health hits a crisis. Nurse Diana Weaselboy performs an exam at the Patina Wellness Center in Phoenix in this 2019 photo. (File Photo by Ricky Cornish/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON — A record number of Arizonans enrolled in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act this year as enrollment in the program continues to recover from Trump administration efforts to suppress coverage.

The 235,229 Arizonans who signed up in the Jan. 15 registration period were part of 16.3 million people nationwide covered by the Obamacare marketplace, also a record for insured individuals.

Proponents attributed the surge to aggressive efforts by the Biden administration, which included a longer enrollment period and an extension of financial assistance for federally-subsidized health care, which they say allows some low-income clients to get coverage for as little as $10 a year month received.

This benefits both patients and providers, said Claudia Maldonado, director of public relations and registration at the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers (AACHC).

“They (patients) don’t have to wait until they get sicker to go to the emergency room because now they can go to their GP,” Maldonado said. “We also then have less unpaid care when the hospitals and even the health centers are treating patients who don’t have health insurance.”

It’s a sharp reversal from the declines — which were sharp in Arizona’s case — under President Donald Trump’s administration, which cut funding and public relations and shortened the open enrollment period to stymie the ACA. President Joe Biden reversed those efforts shortly after taking office.

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“We’ve made record-breaking progress in expanding coverage and reducing health care costs for American families, saving them money and giving more Americans the peace of mind that comes with affordable health insurance,” Biden said in a statement released Wednesday.

According to data released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Arizona enrollment increased by 35,523 people, up nearly 18% from a year earlier. Nationally, enrollment increased from 14.5 million to 16.3 million, a 12.3% increase. Since Biden took office, total enrollments have increased by more than 50%.

The Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, was passed in 2010. The law expanded the covered benefits, including extending the time children could remain in their parents’ plans. The biggest change, however, was the creation of marketplaces for private insurance, which came with heavy government subsidies that enabled low-income individuals and families to afford care.

“Instead of someone having to pay the full premium that would apply to ACA, the federal government subsidizes it for a large percentage of the population,” said AACHC spokeswoman Jennifer J. Burns. “Then they pay significantly less, instead of more, even up to 10 US dollars per month for their premium.”

ACA enrollment also received a boost from the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which extended Obamacare’s subsidies through 2025. Because of the law, a middle-class Arizona family of four could save $4,763 on their annual premiums, said Jeffrey Reynoso, Arizona Department of Health’s regional director.

“I think if you make health care more affordable, people will sign up for coverage,” Reynoso said. “We have seen the greatest gains and coverage for some of these historically excluded demographics from health insurance, and these include low-income people, young adults, Latinos, Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and non-English speakers.”

The extension of the open enrollment period also gave ACA registrants the time they needed to work with insurance “navigators” who can help them understand the process and find the insurance plan that best suits their circumstances, said Dr. Daniel Derksen.

“It can be very confusing for individuals trying to navigate the admissions system,” said Derksen, director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona.

“Most things are online, and it can be challenging if you don’t have reliable broadband and internet access or (if) you’re not familiar enough with online technology to provide that support in person or over the phone,” Derksen said .

Will Humble, Arizona’s executive director of public health, said Arizona’s choice of health plans was limited prior to the passage of the ACA. Now that the state has eight different plans for people to choose from, Arizonans can receive stable medical care without being “tied to their jobs,” even if they face changes in income.

“I think the marketplace in 2023 will be more important than ever,” Humble said. “Insurance portability is so important for people looking to make a career change.”

Burns said the ACA has particularly opened doors for Arizonans in healthcare limbo, including those who could lose Medicaid eligibility this spring if a pandemic-related extension of coverage could be phased out.

“Who does it help? It’s the people who wouldn’t otherwise have health insurance,” Burns said. “They don’t have employer-based insurance, but they also don’t qualify for Medicaid because they earn too much.”

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