Sebelius: marketplace enrollment hits 7.5 million, Medicare spending slows


McClatchy Washington Bureau

- More than 7.5 million Americans have now signed up for marketplace health coverage, including 400,000 who purchased coverage as part of a special enrollment period that began on April 1.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the Affordable Care Act's latest enrollment milestone during testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

"And we expect that number to continue to grow," Sebelius testified at the hearing. "Many of the people I’ve met have told me that they’ve been able to get covered for the first time in years. And some have insurance for the first time in their entire lives."

Three million Americans have also gained health coverage through the Medicaid program between October and February, while 11.7 million others have been determined eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, Sebelius testified.

"Now we know that if more states move forward on Medicaid expansion, more uninsured Americans will be able to get covered," Sebelius told lawmakers.

Under questioning from committee ranking member Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sebelius couldn't say how many of the new marketplace enrollees have paid their first month's premium. Nor did she know how many were uninsured before purchasing coverage. That information is being compiled and would be available later, she said.

Sebelius also offered hopeful news about the financially-challenged Medicare program, saying that annual spending increases have slowed dramatically.

From 2001 to 2009, average annual spending for Medicare seniors was growing at an average of 6.9 percent a year. Between 2010 and 2012, it slowed to 1.6 percent and just seven-tenths of a percent in 2012, Sebelius testified.

But HHS actuaries believe the best is yet to come.

"They are now adjusting the trend line once again," Seblius testified. “They think the growth trend will be a minus 3.4 percent. This is the lowest growth ever seen in the history of the program in 50 years."

The spending slowdown for Medicare likely reflects a crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse, reforms in the health law that incentivize more efficient medical care and the impact of younger, healthier baby boomers who are entering the program in greater numbers.

The new baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are typically cheaper to care for.

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