In a week when the Biden administration broke new ground with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House also got a throwback of sorts when Barack Obama visited for the first times since 2017.
Obama’s visit marked 12 years since the former president’s health policy – the Affordable Care Act (ACA) known informally as Obamacare – was signed into law.
During the joint appearance with his former boss, President Biden also signed an executive order directing federal agencies to identify opportunities and take action to expand access and availability of affordable health coverage.
The new order encourages agencies responsible for Americans’ access to care and coverage to make it easier to enroll and maintain coverage, help people understand their options, strengthen benefit generosity, improve access to health care providers, protect people from low-quality coverage, and expand eligibility and lower costs for public health insurance programs, including the ACA, Medicare, and Medicaid. The order also urges agencies to help reduce medical debt, a growing problem for millions of Americans.
At the same time, the administration proposed a new rule to facilitate access to health insurance. In an ACA quirk known as the “family issue,” workers who are offered health insurance as part of their job but can’t afford it are eligible for subsidies if they take out health insurance. health insurance in the market. But their family members, who would be covered by a family plan if employer-sponsored insurance were affordable, are not eligible for these same subsidies. The glitch leaves family members without good options; they can’t afford to join the employer’s plan and they can’t get help buying an Obamacare plan.
The Administration estimates that 200,000 uninsured people could receive coverage as a result of this fix and that coverage would become more affordable for another million. It’s unclear whether congressional action will be required to make the proposed rule a reality.
These efforts to improve Americans’ access to health insurance come as millions of Americans risk losing their coverage when the federal public health emergency (PHE) – instituted at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and extended several times since then – comes to an end. .
For example, the first coronavirus relief package, passed in March 2020, provided federal funds to states that agreed to keep people enrolled in Medicaid during PHE. The PHE was last renewed in January 2022 and is currently due to expire in mid-April if not renewed again. Once the PHE expires, states will lose this additional Medicaid funding and will likely look for ways to reduce their Medicaid enrollment.
Another pandemic-era policy that has made health insurance more accessible is the US bailout, which has expanded eligibility for subsidies on Marketplace insurance plans. As a result of this legislation, the administration says 9 million Americans have seen their premiums reduced by an average of $50 per month. Nearly half of people enrolled in Marketplace insurance plans pay no monthly premium.
But several provisions that have made coverage more affordable have expiration dates this year; some only applied in 2021.
In the face of these threats to current coverage rates, the Biden administration hopes to strengthen the ACA and prevent millions of Americans from becoming uninsured due to reduced eligibility or price. Obama’s legacy and Biden’s future, not to mention the health and financial well-being of millions of Americans, could be at stake.