- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2021

President Biden on Tuesday said that 1 million Americans have selected a health plan since he reopened the main Obamacare website three months ago.

Mr. Biden ordered HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states, to open for a special enrollment period on Feb. 15, citing shocks from the coronavirus pandemic. He also convinced Democratic allies in Congress to make Obamacare more attractive by approving bigger premium subsidies as part of their $1.9 trillion virus-relief package — fueling interest ahead of Tuesday’s benchmark.

“That’s one million more Americans who now have the peace of mind that comes from having health insurance. One million more Americans who don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about what happens if they or one of their family members gets sick,” Mr. Biden said. “Through this opportunity for special enrollment, we have made enormous progress in expanding access to health insurance.”

The Trump administration rejected calls for a special enrollment period earlier in the pandemic, saying people who lost their jobs were eligible to reenter HealthCare.gov and select a plan anyway. 

But Mr. Biden embraced the idea and funded a public-awareness campaign as he tries to herd more customers into the program he championed with former President Obama in 2010.

The special enrollment period was supposed to last until mid-May, but Mr. Biden extended it to August.

“There is plenty of time left to sign up, and I encourage everyone who needs health insurance to go to HealthCare.gov by August 15,” Mr. Biden said. “If you already have coverage, you can help family members and friends who are uninsured get themselves covered.”

The federal marketplace and state-run websites typically attract 8 million to 10 million customers per year during standard enrollment periods in the fall, giving the program a steady customer base but not as many users as Obamacare’s framers envisioned.

Mr. Biden’s coronavirus bill temporarily increased 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.

The president said the popularity of the open-enrollment period is a good reason to extend the benefit as part of his families’ proposal.

“The American Families Plan will build on this work to make health care more affordable — including by making the American Rescue Plan’s premium reductions permanent,” he said. “Today’s milestone demonstrates that there is a need and a demand for high quality, affordable health insurance across this country. It is up to Congress to hear them, and act quickly to pass the American Families Plan.”

Making the enhanced subsidies permanent would cost an estimated $200 billion over 10 years.

Republicans argue boosting the subsidies is a bad idea because it papers over the program’s affordability gaps instead of addressing the underlying costs of health care.

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

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