Health Care

Biden to Reopen Obamacare Marketplaces for Special COVID Enrollment Period

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 26, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

President Joe Biden is set to direct federal agencies to reopen enrollment in the Obamacare marketplaces on Thursday, a step toward fulfilling his campaign promise to revitalize the Affordable Care Act.

The executive order is expected to direct the Department of Health and Human Services to offer a special open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act outside of the usual six-week open enrollment period at the end of the year, two people familiar with the plan told the Associated Press. The move is aimed at helping those who are struggling with their lack of coverage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some states that operate their own insurance markets already launched such special open enrollment periods last year, including Maryland and New York.

The Trump administration bucked suggestions from Democrats last year to temporarily reopen the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges as the coronavirus outbreak took hold in the U.S. and spread across the country.

Trump frequently blasted Obamacare over his campaign and presidency, calling his predecessor’s signature legislative accomplishment a “broken mess.” However, he was unable to wrangle Congress into repealing and replacing Obamacare as he promised to do during the 2016 campaign, and the Trump administration was forced to content itself with chipping away at the program.

The major tax cuts Trump signed also eliminated the individual mandate, one of Obamacare’s most controversial and unpopular elements, which required Americans to pay a penalty if they failed to acquire health insurance.

Biden also plans to bolster outreach and enrollment programs as well as scrap changes to Medicare made by the Trump administration.

In December, enrollment in Obamacare for 2021 grew by about seven percent, reflecting the uptick in uninsured Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 14 million Americans are thought to have lost their health insurance since March of last year. Meanwhile, the coronavirus has killed more than 425,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than 25 million.

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