Jun 22, 2021 - Health

Health insurers soak in pandemic-fueled Medicaid growth

The Medicaid enrollment boom
Data: Company filings, CMS, Kaiser Family Foundation; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

National Medicaid enrollment hit a record 80.5 million this past January, as Congress provided extra funding for states to retain and sign up more low-income adults and children during the coronavirus pandemic.

Between the lines: Because more states have outsourced their Medicaid programs to private health insurers, this pandemic-fueled growth also has been a boon for some of the largest insurance companies.

State of play: Health insurers have been pursuing more revenue from government health programs, including Medicaid.

  • Seven out of 10 Medicaid enrollees are in a plan run by an insurance company, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
  • That would mean roughly 55.5 million of the 80.5 million people now on Medicaid are in a privately run plan.
  • And of those 55.5 million, roughly two-thirds are in a plan owned by five dominant insurance companies.
  • Centene covers 13.6 million Medicaid enrollees, the most of any company. Centene acquired WellCare last year and is now so large, it essentially functions as a branch of state and federal governments.

Worth noting: "The evidence is thin that these contractors improve patient care or save government money," Chad Terhune reported for Kaiser Health News in 2018.

Go deeper: Medicaid will be a coronavirus lifeline

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