President Biden on Tuesday hailed the lowest uninsured rate in U.S. history, at 8%, and lobbied Congress to pass signature legislation that would shore up gains made through Obamacare.
Mr. Biden said the drop in the uninsured rate “did not happen by accident,” citing about 21 million people who gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and another 14 million who bought private coverage with the help of federal subsidies on web-based exchanges.
About 5 million of those new enrollees sought coverage over the past two years, Mr. Biden said, because of the beefed-up taxpayer-funded subsidies in the administration’s virus-relief package.
The generous subsidies were set to expire this year but Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia agreed to a deal that would extend the high subsidies through 2025 so long as Democrats are able to pass the package on a party-line vote in the Senate.
“I urge Congress to pass this legislation swiftly to lower health-care costs and make health insurance coverage more accessible for families across the country,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden was vice president when President Barack Obama and Democrats muscled their signature health program through Congress as part of a push to create universal coverage in America. It didn’t work out as planned, with lower-than-expected enrollment creating economic and political headwinds for the effort.
The Trump administration and GOP allies tried and failed to repeal the law in 2017 but zeroed out its individual mandate to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty.
Upon taking office, Mr. Biden promoted Obamacare again and allowed people to sign up and qualify for supersized government assistance during a special enrollment period for much of 2021.
Roughly 26.4 million people remained uninsured in the first quarter of this year, meaning universal coverage remains a work in progress.
Analysts have said that expanding Medicaid under Obamacare in all the states — a dozen states, including Texas and Florida, have refused — and providing a path to legal status for unlawful migrants residing in the U.S., so they qualify for insurance programs, would be two major ways to slash the uninsured rate.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the uninsured rate of 8% beats the previous all-time low of 8.8% set in the first quarter of 2017, as the Obama presidency ended and the Trump administration began.
The rate ticked up again to above 10% by 2019 before diving down again at the start of the Biden era.
HHS said the largest gains were among persons who earn less than 100% of the federal poverty level, who would qualify for Medicaid in most states, and among those who earn between 200% and 400% of poverty and could take advantage of bigger Obamacare subsidies.
Mr. Biden thinks more progress is within reach, citing estimates that his Inflation Reduction Act would lock in an average of $800 in annual savings for 13 million Obamacare enrollees.
“Every American has the right to the peace of mind that comes with access to affordable, quality health care,” he said. “No one should worry about whether they can pay for their doctor or choose between paying rent and filling a prescription. Today, we are closer than ever to making that principle a reality.”