Obamacare enrollment jump 'is both good news and bad news'

·Senior Editor
·4-min read

Over 1 million Americans signed up for Obamacare through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace so far in 2021 amid a special enrollment period (SEP), the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

“That’s one million more Americans who now have the peace of mind that comes from having health insurance,” Biden said in a statement. “One million more Americans who don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about what happens if they or one of their family members gets sick. Through this opportunity for special enrollment, we have made enormous progress in expanding access to health insurance.”

President Biden opened an SEP from February 15 through August 15, enabling uninsured Americans to immediately sign up for health care through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace and receive health insurance coverage.

"I think this is both good news and bad news," Cynthia Cox, director for the Program on the ACA at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told Yahoo Finance about the latest numbers. "Any increase in the number of people getting covered through the marketplace shows that many people are able to find a way to access affordable, comprehensive health insurance despite the struggling economy. ... But we know there are millions more who were already uninsured before the pandemic hit, and one would hope that the new, generous subsidies might be enough to attract even more people into the market."

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a a 'Help is Here' tour event to tout the 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act law on the 11th anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) legislation being signed into law, as he visits the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, U.S., March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
President Biden speaks during a a 'Help is Here' tour event to tout the 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act law on the 11th anniversary of the Obamacare legislation being signed into law in Columbus, Ohio March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Biden's statement noted that the recent American Rescue Plan stimulus legislation lowered premiums and out-of-pocket costs for Obamacare enrollees. (The median deductible for ACA enrollees has dropped by almost 90% to only $50, as of April 1, as a result of tax credits.)

“Since it became law more than a decade ago, the Affordable Care Act has been a lifeline for millions of Americans,” Biden stated. “The pandemic has demonstrated how badly it is needed, and how critical it is that we continue to improve upon it.”

More than 29.6 million Americans were uninsured in 2019. The exact number of Americans who lost employer-sponsored health coverage during the coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession is unclear, though The Commonwealth Fund estimated that the number is upwards of 7 million.

"I think there is still a long way to go before we reach near-universal health coverage," Cox added. "More outreach and enrollment assistance may help the remaining uninsured access the help that is available to them."

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'Our work is far from over'

An SEP generally opens for an individual who experiences a qualifying event such as job loss, divorce, or turning the age of 26. 

The national SEP enacted by the Biden administration opened up eligibility criteria to everyone in need of health insurance, as part of the American Rescue Plan.

“This milestone reinforces what we know to be true: There is a real demand for quality, affordable health care across the United States,” Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, millions of Americans are seeing reduced monthly premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs. But our work is far from over.”

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JANUARY 28:  A. Michael Khoury stands outside of his Leading Insurance Agency, which offers plans under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) on January 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida. President Joe Biden signed an executive order to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s federal insurance marketplaces from February 15 to May 15. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A. Michael Khoury stands outside of his Leading Insurance Agency, which offers plans under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) on January 28, 2021 in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The president's statement also called upon Congress to pass the American Families Plan, which proponents say would lower family health care costs, keep premium relief in place permanently, and insure 4 million more Americans.

“As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, it’s more critical than ever for Americans to have access to quality, affordable health care,” Becerra said. “A few moments are all it takes to save money, get better care, and have the peace of mind that comes with high quality, affordable health coverage. So, go to HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov to find a plan that works for you.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

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