- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2023

More than 16 million people signed up for private health insurance during Obamacare’s open enrollment season for the coming year, the administration said Wednesday, boasting that President Biden‘s decision to supersize federal subsidies resulted in record signups.

The Department of Health and Human Services said 12.2 million people selected health coverage for the 2023 plan year on the federal HealthCare.gov website. Another 4.1 million used exchanges operated by individual states or D.C., for a total of 16.3 million signups from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15.

The total is double the signup tally during the first-ever Obamacare enrollment and breaks the previous record set last year of 14.5 open-enrollment signups.  

“I promised to lower costs for families and ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. Today, we received further proof that our efforts are delivering record-breaking results,” Mr. Biden said.

Obamacare is putting up bigger numbers after Mr. Biden and his Democratic allies made its income-based, taxpayer-funded subsidies more generous. The subsidies defray the cost of monthly premiums that customers pay after they select a private health care plan on one of Obamacare’s web platforms.

Mr. Biden‘s COVID-relief package in early 2021 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 subsidies were extended through 2025 in Mr. Biden‘s signature tax-and-climate legislation last year, making the program more financially attractive to customers.

Roughly 3.6 million customers for 2023 were signing up for coverage for the first time, while the rest were returning customers.

Mr. Biden last year invited former President Barack Obama back to the White House in March to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which they muscled through Congress with the help of Democratic majorities.

It’s been a roller-coaster ride for the program. Its website crashed upon launch in late 2013 and enrollment was lower than expected, forcing healthier people in the individual market to pay more for coverage after a tide of sicker persons signed up.

People also lost bare-bones plans they had enjoyed, despite Mr. Obama’s promise they could keep them because the law set new standards for coverage.

The law also had to survive three court challenges before the Supreme Court and a GOP decision to zero out the individual mandate tax for failing to obtain coverage. The mandate was supposed to prod people into the program but didn’t work as planned.

About 12.7 million people signed up for Obamacare plans in 2016, a share that dipped in 2020 to 11.4 million at the end of the Trump administration, which failed to get a repeal effort through Congress but found other ways to weaken the program.

Mr. Biden took immediate steps to bolster the program upon taking office, allowing people to sign up for much of 2021 on grounds that the pandemic necessitated broad enrollment.

Yet the decision to bolster subsidies appears to be driving record enrollment. Four out of five people who returned to HealthCare.gov were able to find a health plan for $10 or less after tax credits were applied.

“The increase in subsidies has made coverage so much more affordable,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on a press call about the numbers.

The administration also credited efforts to bolster advertising and promotion of the program and greater funding for in-person assistance.

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

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