NY’s Medicaid enrollment skyrockets by nearly 1.5 million during pandemic

It’s New York’s Medicaid for All program.

The number of state residents who received government-funded Medicaid health insurance has skyrocketed to historic highs during the COVID-19 pandemic, new state data reveal.

The soaring enrollment — spurred by job and income loss — exploded by nearly 1.5 million claimants statewide since the pandemic hit, the figures show.

In January 2020, about 6.1 million of the state’s 19.8 million residents were enrolled in the program.

State health officials say they expect that figure to now hit nearly 7.6 million by March, up from the current 7.2 million.

That’s nearly 40 percent of the Empire State’s 19.8 million residents.

“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the most significant one-year increase in Medicaid enrollment since the inception of the program [in 1967],’’ according to a new state Health Department report that tracks Medicaid spending.

As for New York City residents, more than 4 million, or nearly half the Big Apple’s 8.8 million population, were enrolled in Medicaid — the government health insurance for poor and lower-income residents and those with disabilities — by August.

City residents have consistently accounted for 56 percent of the state’s enrollment Medicaid recipients — which would mean 4.26 million people of the 7.6 million estimated by March.

State health officials believe that 7.6 million New York residents will be enrolled in Medicaid by March 2022.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Big Apple residents on the Medicaid rolls increased by more than 1 million over the past decade.

“Due to enrollment of individuals who lost their employment or had lower income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicaid enrollment is expected to grow to 7,594,000 individuals by March 2022, an increase of 633,000 individuals from March 2021,” the DOH report said.

The state’s mammoth $82.5 billion Medicaid program is by far the most costly in the nation. The costs are split between the federal, state and local governments.

Increased federal emergency aid for New York’s Medicaid program helped cushion the fiscal blow to state and local governments from the stampede of jobless residents who enrolled in the program.

Even before the pandemic, Medicaid enrollment had been creeping up thanks to former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which encouraged states to loosen eligibility requirements for Medicaid enrollment in exchange for more federal aid as a way to reduce the number of Americans who were uninsured.

Meanwhile, a recent analysis by the Empire Center for Public Policy found there are now more New Yorkers above the poverty line who qualify for Medicaid than those under it.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the biggest single year increase in Medicaid enrollment since the program began in 1967, according to the state DOH.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the biggest single year increase in Medicaid enrollment since the program began in 1967.
Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond said the huge numbers of New Yorkers on Medicaid should raise alarm bells because the figure is well beyond the state’s poverty and jobless rates and is out of line with other states across the country.

“It doesn’t all line up. I don’t understand how the enrollment could get so high. Even before the pandemic, the Medicaid enrollment was really high, given the poverty rate we’ve had,” Hammond said.

As the state’s poverty rate declined, its Medicaid rolls still grew by 1.4 million, or 29 percent, from 2010 to 2019, the Empire Center analysis said.

“These figures raise concern that the state is not adequately screening Medicaid applicants. … It’s something the state should be auditing,” Hammond said.

He also pointed out there are actually 8.4 million New Yorkers in state subsidized medical insurance programs when considering the Essential Plan and Child Health Plus as well as Medicaid — or 42 percent of the state’s population.