- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2021

President Biden used the start of the Obamacare enrollment period Monday to promote the “Build Back Better” agenda that’s languishing on Capitol Hill, saying big federal subsidies that Democrats approved earlier this year herded people into the 2010 program and should be extended to reel in more.

Mr. Biden said many customers who don’t receive health insurance coverage from an employer can now find coverage for less than $10 a month because of the taxpayer-funded assistance in the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats raised the subsidies across the board in their coronavirus-relief bill and made people earning more than 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.

Mr. Biden now is trying to extend those beefed-up subsidies in a sweeping social spending package sitting in Congress alongside other benefits, including coverage of hearing services for seniors in Medicare and special Obamacare subsidies for 4 million people who live in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.

“This transformational investment will reduce premiums for more than 9 million Americans, deliver health coverage to 4 million uninsured people in states that have failed to expand Medicaid, and expand Medicare to help older Americans access affordable hearing care,” Mr. Biden said. “I urge everyone to visit HealthCare.gov today to renew their coverage or shop for a plan. And I urge Congress to send the Build Back Better framework to my desk right away, so that we can deliver peace of mind and a more secure future to millions of American families.”

The effort faces some headwinds. Members of Mr. Biden’s own party are bickering over the scope of the social spending bill as Congress attempts to pass an infrastructure bill with it.

Republicans, meanwhile, say Democrats should focus their efforts on reducing the cost of health care instead of spending more tax dollars on subsidies to herd people into the private insurance framework set up under Obamacare.

The Obamacare marketplace, which will accept new customers for 2022 coverage until Jan. 15, is reopening less than three months after the close of a “special enrollment period” that stretched from February to August.

Mr. Biden pointed to potential shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic to justify reopening the portals that were established by the signature law he pushed alongside President Obama.

“During the six months in which we opened Healthcare.gov for special enrollment earlier this year, nearly 3 million more Americans gained access to health coverage,” Mr. Biden said. “Thanks to the Build Back Better Framework I announced last week, we are now poised to realize the largest expansion of affordable health care since the passage of the Affordable Care Act more than a decade ago.”

The administration said enrollment in the Obamacare marketplace, a series of federal- and state-run websites where Americans can shop among private health insurance plans and qualify for subsidies, is at a record high of 12.2 million.

Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the administration will promote the new enrollment season aggressively. She said potential enrollees will see ads featuring testimonials from real customers who qualified for subsidized coverage on HealthCare.gov, the federal sign-up website.

The administration will also expand its Spanish-language outreach and, for the first time, advertise in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Hindi.

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

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