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‘Obamacare’ Sign-ups Reopen As Democrats Push For More Aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — HealthCare.gov’s market for subsidized health plans reopened Monday for a special three-month sign-up window as the Democratic-led Congress pushes a boost in financial help that could cut premiums by double digits.

Access to health care is “especially critical in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has already taken the lives of more than 470,000 of our fellow Americans and infected more than one out of every 12 additional Americans, often with devastating consequences to their health,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday.

This enrollment period during the coronavirus pandemic is an early test of Biden’s strategy to use the Affordable Care Act as a springboard toward health coverage for all. Advancing on a parallel track, the new COVID-19 relief bill from House Democrats would offer a generous, though temporary, increase in subsidies for people covered by the law known as “Obamacare.”

“It is a hugely important signaling move,” said Katherine Hempstead of the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The administration is doing more than having open enrollment here, they’re saying they want to make this coverage more affordable.”

For clients, “it’s their last chance probably to enroll in health insurance for 2021,” Hattemer said.

One is Jacklindy Barradez, a housekeeper and restaurant worker unemployed since the start of the pandemic. Her husband hung on to his maintenance job, but the couple and their two children are uninsured. Barradez said a friend told her about the health law and she intends to follow through.

With no health insurance as the pandemic stretches into its second year, Barradez is uneasy. “We are not exempt from having something happen to us,” she said in Spanish, her first language. “Not having the means to respond is extremely worrisome.”

The Biden administration is going the extra mile to try to sign up people such as Barradez.

Across the country, people in the 36 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace will be able to apply. Additionally, most states that run their own marketplaces are matching the federal effort, giving it the feel of a national campaign.

The appeal for uninsured people could become much clearer if Congress increases premium subsidies as part of its next virus relief package.

By the budget center’s calculations, a family of four making $50,000 would pay $67 a month in premiums for a standard plan, instead of an average of $252 currently, while also qualifying for help with deductibles and copays. The boost in premium assistance would be available for this year and for 2022.

Similarly, a single person making $30,000 a year would pay $85 a month for a standard plan instead of the current $195.

Republicans who tried but failed to repeal the law under President Donald Trump are calling the Democratic plan a waste of taxpayer dollars. But many Democrats see it as merely a down payment on a more ambitious health care agenda.

The Obama health law now covers more than 20 million people through a combination of subsidized private plans and, in most states, expanded Medicaid.

Experts agree that job losses during the pandemic have led to more uninsured people, but it’s unclear how many more. Some estimates range from 5 million to 10 million, while the Congressional Budget Office suggests a lower number, more like 3 million.

Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health says it’s likely that many who became unemployed in the pandemic had no job-based health insurance to begin with. That means they represent the demographic for which the health law was originally designed.



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