- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Biden administration on Wednesday said half a million Americans had selected a health insurance plan on the federal Obamacare signup portal since the start of a special enrollment period in February.

The Department of Health and Human Services provided the update after President Biden and Democratic allies muscled through a bill that provides bigger subsidies for customers on the law’s exchanges while extending federal help to those earning more than four times the poverty level for the first time.

Mr. Biden also extended the close of the special enrollment period from mid-May to mid-August, raising its visibility. Customers could begin sizing up their options under the new subsidy structure as of April 1, though the HHS figures only reflect signups through the end of March.

The administration previously reported that 200,000 people had signed up through the first two weeks of the special enrollment period on HealthCare.gov, which serves three dozen states.

“Access to quality, affordable health care is essential — especially as we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “Since the beginning of this Special Enrollment Period’s availability on HealthCare.gov, more than 500,000 Americans have already signed up for coverage on HealthCare.gov. Now, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, health care coverage is more affordable and millions of Americans are seeing their premiums reduced.”

The administration insists the enrollment period is a way to lift up Americans who’ve been nudged out of insurance from the coronavirus pandemic, though critics of the move say the government is throwing taxpayer dollars at a flawed system instead of focusing on the actual cost of health care.

Budget analyses suggest Mr. Biden’s subsidy plan is a pricey way to try to herd people into the exchanges. 

About $35 billion would be needed to get 1.3 million people newly insured, leading Republicans to prod the administration to focus on more affordable options for those priced out of Obamacare from the start.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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