As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and the economy, President Joe Biden signed an executive order creating an opportunity for Americans to sign up for Obamacare. It’s an important move considering many people in the country have lost their jobs (and health insurance) due to the economic fallout from the virus.
Biden’s actions authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow people to sign up for insurance using the Affordable Care Act portal during a “special enrollment period” between February 15 and May 15 of this year. The last time the portal was open for enrollment was December 15, 2020.
“There’s nothing new that we’re doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president,” Biden told reporters as he signed the order in the Oval Office.
The administration will also do “robust outreach” to ensure people know they can take advantage of the health care exchange. And they will have plenty of funds to do so. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Trump administration did not spend $1.2 billion in fees insurers paid the government for running the marketplace, which means the money is now available for Biden to use.
“The reason it wasn’t spent is the Trump administration spent its time in office cutting services that support consumer enrollment,” Kaiser health insurance expert Karen Pollitz told the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. “All the while the user fee revenue was coming in, [but] they were not allowed to spend it on anything other than marketplace operations.”
Biden’s executive actions are the first steps in the process of undoing some of the changes the Trump administration made to health care. Also in the Obamacare executive order, Biden asked HHS to review a Trump-era rule that allowed short-term health plans not to cover pre-existing conditions. And he directed the department to look at a Trump administration policy that let states add work requirements in order to qualify for Medicaid, government-run health insurance available to low-income Americans.
But to realize some of his campaign promises related to health care — providing a government-run public option and raising the amount covered by federal premium subsidies — Biden will need help from Congress. Some of the measures are included in his proposed $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package, including subsidizing continuation health coverage (COBRA) for people who have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance through September of this year and increasing subsidies for ACA health insurance plans so that people pay a maximum of 8.5 percent of their income toward their coverage.
This article has been updated.