Biden and other Democrats blast Trump's health care rejection amid coronavirus

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

The Trump administration’s decision to not open a special enrollment period for the health care marketplace because of the coronavirus pandemic has garnered strong criticism from the Democratic Party.

A White House official told POLITICO that the Trump administration would be foregoing an SEP, and instead “exploring other options.”

Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden criticized the decision.  

“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and the Trump Administration is preventing people from getting health care,” the former Vice President tweeted. “I can’t believe this needs to be said, but President Trump needs to reopen Obamacare enrollment, and he needs to do it now. Lives are at stake.”

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

His primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), also lambasted Trump’s decision on Twitter, calling it “insane.”

“Millions are losing their jobs and health care at a rate never before seen in American history,” he said. “[President Trump’s] response? Block HealthCare.gov from enrolling people who desperately need insurance during a pandemic.”

Sanders has been critical of the U.S. health care system’s response to the coronavirus. In a previous Democratic debate, he said that in light of the pandemic, “the dysfunctionality of the current health care system is obviously apparent. Clearly we are not prepared, and Trump only exacerbates the crisis.”

Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the U.S. (Graphic: Yahoo Finance)

‘The height of callousness and irresponsibility’

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) didn’t hold back his opinion on the matter either.

“This decision is the height of callousness and irresponsibility,” he said in a statement. “We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and people need health care coverage, yet the president is denying people access to it.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — which the Trump administration is currently trying to eliminate— allows certain people to enroll in the health care marketplace when there have been major life events, such losing your job and therefore losing insurance. Known as a special enrollment period (SEP), it usually lasts for 60 days after a “qualifying event.”

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a campaign event, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in North Liberty, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

For those who have experienced a qualifying event, they automatically are able to enroll in coverage. But for individuals who have been uninsured and now want health coverage, they can only obtain it through open enrollment.

“The Affordable Care Act was created for this very purpose — so that individuals without health insurance could get affordable, quality coverage,” Booker said. “At a time when our health care system is already under enormous strain, it makes no sense to willingly allow even more individuals to go without coverage.”

Booker represents New Jersey, one of 38 states with a federally-run Obamacare marketplace. That means in order for a special enrollment period to be created, it must be done at the discretion of the president. 

Out of the 12 states (and D.C.) that have their own marketplaces through the ACA — California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — 11 of them have created their own special enrollment periods in response to the coronavirus, although most of these SEPs end during the month of April.

States with special enrollment periods (SEPs) currently. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Booker called on Congress to pass the Care for COVID-19 Act, a bill that he had introduced in March, which would require health insurance plans to cover coronavirus-related services (like testing and prevention) without cost-sharing, and open a special enrollment period for everyone. 

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas, said the move by the Trump administration wasn’t “just an outrageous decision, but it’s also a deadly one.”

Meanwhile, Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, called it an “awful, harmful decision.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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