- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2021

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Thursday that 940,000 people have selected health coverage on the main Obamacare sign-up website since the start of a special enrollment period in February.

President Biden ordered HealthCare.gov to reopen this year, citing shocks from the pandemic, while convincing Democratic allies in Congress to make Obamacare more attractive by approving bigger premium subsidies as part of their $1.9 trillion virus-relief package.

“Families and individuals are signing up for high-quality insurance that the American Rescue Plan made more affordable,” Mr. Becerra said. “Across America, there is a need and demand for high-quality, low-cost health insurance. That’s why we are doing all we can to reach people who need coverage.”

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 Barack Obama in 2010.

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

HealthCare.gov serves three dozen states that didn’t bother to set up a website, or “exchange,” where people can shop for Obamacare plans and qualify for assistance. States with their own exchanges reopened in February and are letting people sign up through May, or midsummer in some instances.

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% of 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.

Mr. Becerra said nearly 2 million existing enrollees have returned to the website to take advantage of the enhanced taxpayer-funded assistance.

Mr. Biden wants Congress to make the enhanced subsidies permanent so they don’t expire after 2022.

Budget analyses suggest Mr. Biden’s subsidy plan is a pricey way to try to herd people into the exchanges, so Republicans want the administration to focus on the underlying costs of health care instead of throwing more money at subsidies.

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

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