- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2022

President Biden said Thursday a record 14.5 million people signed up for private health insurance during Obamacare’s open enrollment season for the coming year, after Democrats used a coronavirus-relief package to increase subsidies to cut the cost of premiums.

Mr. Biden said roughly 10 million Americans signed up on the federal HealthCare.gov website from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, while the rest selected a plan on state-run websites, some of which will remain open for sign-ups through the end of the month.

“This did not happen by accident,” Mr. Biden said. “The American Rescue Plan did more to lower costs and expand access to health care than any action since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It made quality coverage more affordable than ever — with families saving an average of $2,400 on their annual premiums, and four out of five consumers finding quality coverage for under $10 a month.”

The Department of Health and Human Services said customers on HealthCare.gov saw their average monthly premium fall by 23% compared to the 2021 enrollment period. The previous period ended before the virus-relief package boosted subsidies across the board and lifted the income cap for those eligible to apply, offering financial help to higher earners if “benchmark” premiums exceeded 8.5% of their income.

The supersized Obamacare subsidies expire at the end of this year, so Mr. Biden is pushing to extend them at least through 2025 through his “Build Back Better” legislation. That bill passed the House but has run into opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, in the evenly divided Senate and faces an uncertain fate.

Mr. Biden this month said the broad package might have to move through Congress in smaller pieces.

“I’m confident we can get pieces — big chunks — of the Build Back Better law signed into law,” he said at a recent press conference.

Mr. Manchin campaigned in support of Obamacare and its protections for people with preexisting conditions in 2018, even shooting a GOP-led lawsuit against the law in one of his ads.

Democrats said Thursday the enhanced subsidies will be a key priority in negotiating which parts of Mr. Biden’s agenda can pass.

“We do need to extend the American Rescue Plan provision regarding enhanced premium support. As you know that is part of our Build Back Better agenda,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said on a conference call with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “… I still believe and am confident we will get a number of the major provisions from the bill that passed the House through the Senate. That increased premium help has dramatically boosted enrollment in different plans and made it much more affordable.”

Mr. Biden also let Americans select coverage during a special enrollment period for much of 2021. 

The administration said the uninsured rate fell to 8.9% in the third quarter of 2021, down from 10.3% at the end of 2020. One in seven uninsured Americans got covered between the end of 2020 and September 2021, with lower-income Americans gaining coverage at the highest rate.

All told, 5.8 million Americans newly gained coverage through Obamacare during the Biden administration, as many sign-ups are returning customers.

Mr. Biden is pointing to the new enrollees to lobby for his bill, in essence daring Congress to take away the subsidies that fueled the enrollment surge.

“As long as any American lies awake at night, wondering how they’re going to pay their medical bills, my administration will keep fighting to lower costs and expand health coverage even more — including through my Build Back Better agenda,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden said customers in California, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C., can still sign up through Jan. 31. Maryland went further, extending the deadline to Feb. 28.

“That’s a good thing, we could see the numbers increase substantially,” Mr. Becerra said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

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

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