President Biden orders the reopening of the Affordable Care Act exchanges By Chelsi Walker
President Biden signed 2 executive orders relating to healthcare on Thursday, January 28th, 2021, intending to increase access to affordable health insurance for Americans nationwide. A large part of these executive orders involved reopening the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, exchanges for a special enrollment period spanning February 15th, 2021 to May 15th, 2021.
This is a turnaround from Trump-era healthcare policies, which shortened the enrollment period to 6 weeks. Biden’s stated intent is to provide as many Americans with access to adequate healthcare. This is especially significant as America continues to struggle to control COVID-19 and we continue to experience economic downturns and job losses that sees many people losing their employer-sponsored healthcare plans.
This executive action applies to the federal Affordable Care Act Marketplaces, but the 11 states that run their own Obamacare exchanges are expected to follow suit and reopen their exchanges for a special enrollment period. Many of these exchanges broke away from the Trump administration’s decision not to extend the enrollment period and allowed their residents to use special enrollment periods to gain insurance.
The executive actions focused exclusively on healthcare, a Biden administration priority due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump-era rollbacks on both the ACA and Medicaid. Other aspects of the executive orders aim to address measures that made enrolling in Medicaid and ACA increasingly difficult, made coverage more expensive or eliminated financial assistance and left people with preexisting conditions out in the cold.
Biden also intends on strengthening the existing ACA and Medicaid programs, building on the work he did as Vice President with former President Barack Obama. In his January 28th executive orders, he asked agencies to examine how the programs were weakened over the past 4 years and what can be done to restore and strengthen each program.
Additionally, many measures to further expand the ACA and Medicaid are included in his proposed COVID-19 relief plan, like capping the amount of your income spent on healthcare to 8.5% of your yearly income.
The organization that runs the federal ACA exchange, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will focus primarily on education, publicization and outreach. The Trump administration cut the budget for these programs by 90%, along with gutting enrollment assistance. More people than not ran into major issues when trying to sign up for coverage in 2020. And at least 5 million people reached out for assistance or tried to find in-person help and were denied access. This same organization will also focus on using community networks to spread the word about the special enrollment period in several languages aside from English.
Biden’s administration will also be looking to overturn or void Trump-era changes to Medicaid and the ACA that added work requirements to eligibility.
There will be more updates as time goes on. To stay in the loop, interested parties will want to keep an eye on Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and a lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court by several Republican lawmakers challenging the constitutional nature of the ACA.