Biden extends special sign-up period for Obamacare with increased subsidies

arpacaextension-300x191The Biden Administration has further expanded a special sign-up season for health insurance plans offered on Obamacare exchanges, giving consumers until Aug. 15 to enroll in coverage that also may be much cheaper.

The newly confirmed Health and Human Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement:

“Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care — especially as we fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this special enrollment period, the Biden Administration is giving the American people the chance they need to find an affordable health care plan that works for them.”

As the Washington Post reported:

“The regular sign-up period [for Affordable Care Act plans] lasts from the beginning of November to the middle of December every year. Similarly, employer plans typically offer short sign-up periods at the year’s end. That’s because insurers typically hate the idea of people being able to buy coverage whenever they want to, considering that healthy people would be likely to avoid signing up until they are sick and need expensive care. But when Biden took office, he quickly reopened for a three-month period, citing the need to give Americans an extra chance to get covered amid the pandemic. Insurers didn’t object — and then a few weeks later were overjoyed when Biden signed his relief bill, allowing the government to subsidize the plans they sell on the marketplaces even more heavily than before.”

The potential savings on Obamacare coverage could be significant for patients  (see figure above from a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis) — though critics say they cost will be high for the federal government for increased ACA subsidies.

The explanation of the increased assistance under the ACA looks like this in policy terms, according to the Washington Post:

“The new thresholds allow people earning up to 150% of the federal poverty level (about $19,000 for an individual) to purchase a plan with the premiums fully subsidized by the federal government. Furthermore, there’s no longer a cap on subsidies for people earning 400% or more of the federal poverty level. These individuals or families would be expected to pay no more than 8.5% of their income in monthly premiums.”

Here is what the Associated Press reported on how a hypothetical ACA consumer could benefit under the Biden-back American Rescue Plan [ARP] and its enhanced Obamacare support:

The [ARP] … legislation cuts premiums paid by a hypothetical 64-year-old making $58,000 from $1,075 a month to about $413, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. A 45-year-old making $19,300 would pay zero in premiums as compared with about $67 on average before the law. People who have even a brief spell of unemployment this year can get a standard plan for zero premium and reduced copays and deductibles.”

Savvy patients, especially if they do not get covered under a workplace policy, will jump on the homework needed to see how the Democratic coronavirus pandemic relief law might benefit them, especially if it provides them new, improved, or less costly health coverage.

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.

The national political conversation, especially when it turns to health care, has focused on health insurance as a seeming alpha and omega. It is not. But it is an important way for all of us, as we all are a blink away from a calamitous illness or injury, to share risks and better deal with bankrupting costs for medical services.

For more than a decade, Republicans in Congress, and when in the White House, sought to repeal Obamacare, without ever offering a real and credible replacement. The ACA, as even its strongest supporters acknowledged, needed improvements. Biden, in dealing with the pandemic, has sought to upgrade Obamacare, though many of these changes will need further congressional action in as little as two years.

Health care is a right and not a privilege. We have much work to do to improve it — and not just to battle without end about health insurance alone. The previous administration, besides its shambolic handing of the pandemic, promised and never delivered a comprehensive health care plan, all while also seeing health coverage — which had increased markedly under the ACA — start to decline. Millions of working poor and middle-class Americans can reverse this unhelpful dip, and that could be a good result for the country’s health.

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