Medicaid Enrollment Jumps During Pandemic

Off the Charts: The Visual Says It All

A pharmacist talks to a customer about a prescription.
•••

Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Enrollment in the federal government’s Medicaid program soared by more than 15% in the first 11 months of the pandemic—increasing by over 9.7 million people—as people who lost jobs or had other financial hardships flocked to the safety net.

As the chart below shows, Medicaid enrollment jumped to 73.8 million from 64 million between February of 2020 and January of this year, according to data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) this week. Together with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which added about 123,600 people during the 11 months, enrollment reached a record high of 80.5 million people, the federal agency said.

The surge can be largely attributed to the first COVID-19 relief package, which temporarily increased the federal government’s share of Medicaid costs, the CMS said. Individual states qualified for a 6.2% increase in federal funding as long as they didn’t make their Medicaid eligibility standards more restrictive.

"Medicaid and CHIP serve as a much-needed lifeline for millions of people throughout this country. The increase we are seeing is exactly how Medicaid works: The program steps in to support people and their families when times are tough,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a press release accompanying the data. 

Medicaid provides health insurance for eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with disabilities, while CHIP covers uninsured children in families with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but too low to afford private coverage. Both are administered by states and jointly funded at the state and federal level. Combined, the programs serve as the largest single source of health coverage in the country, the CMS said.

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Medora at medoralee@thebalance.com.