- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Obamacare added 4.6 million people to its rolls over the course of the year, President Biden said Wednesday, bolstering the 2010 program he pushed with then-President Obama while heaping pressure on Mr. Biden to get his social welfare bill across the finish line in Congress.

Roughly 1.8 million new customers signed up during the fall enrollment period, joining 2.8 million who entered the program’s online insurance exchanges earlier this year, according to the administration. Yet many were enticed by federal subsidies that Democrats supersized in a virus-relief package earlier this year.

Those increases only last through 2022, so Mr. Biden is pushing to extend them at least through 2025 through his “Build Back Better” legislation that passed the House but ran into opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, in the evenly divided Senate.

Mr. Biden is pointing to the new enrollees to lobby for his bill, in essence daring Congress to take away the added benefit.

“My Build Back Better Act represents the single most consequential expansion of affordable health care since the Affordable Care Act a decade ago. We will press forward on passing Build Back Better, work to cut health care costs, and deliver greater peace of mind to American families in the new year,” he said.

Mr. Biden said 13.6 million signed up for health coverage through the federal HealthCare.gov signup website and state-based portals from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, an all-time high.

All but 1.8 million were returning customers, though the larger customer base is a boon for the program that launched in the fall of 2013 but has struggled to attract enough customers to keep premiums in check.

Mr. Biden, citing the pandemic, also opened the portals from February to August to herd more customers into the program outside of the standard enrollment period.

Federal officials say four out of five consumers can find decent coverage for under $10 a month because the American Rescue Plan temporarily increased Obamacare subsidies across the board and made people earning over 400% above the poverty line eligible for federal assistance for the first time, removing the income cap and offering financial help if “benchmark” premiums exceed 8.5% of income.

Now Mr. Biden is under pressure to keep those dollars flowing to customers, on top of provisions that target high drug costs and would bolster Medicaid benefits in states the never expanded their programs under Obamacare.

“As long as there are Americans who still lie awake at night, wondering how they’re going to make it if an accident or illness hits home, we know we still have work to do,” Mr. Biden said. “As we keep up our fight against the pandemic, it is more important than ever that we continue to expand coverage and lower costs. My Build Back Better Act would do just that — reducing premiums for more than 9 million Americans, covering 4 million Americans in states that have failed to expand Medicaid, expanding Medicare to include hearing coverage, lowering prescription drug costs, and bringing down the price of insulin to no more than $35 for a month’s supply.”

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

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