Obamacare sign-ups top 1 million during special enrollment period for COVID-19

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WASHINGTON – More than 1 million Americans signed up for health insurance during the ongoing special enrollment period for HealthCare.gov, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.

That's on top of the about 12 million who selected 2021 coverage during the regular enrollment period that ended in December in most states.

That level of enrollment could have a meaningful effect on the uninsured rate and could help President Joe Biden build support for the permanent changes he hopes to make to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.

"Today’s milestone demonstrates that there is a need and a demand for high quality, affordable health insurance across this country," Biden said in a statement.

The enrollment figures are for the 36 states that use the federally run marketplace. States that operate their own are also holding special enrollment periods but the time period and other details vary.

Biden created a special enrollment period that runs from Feb. 15 through Aug. 15 to help people find coverage during the pandemic, an effort boosted by expanded premium subsides included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief packaged passed in March.

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The package increased for two years the subsidies already available to people who don't receive health insurance from an employer or through a government plan such as Medicare or Medicaid. And it made the subsidies newly available for people earning more than four times the federal poverty level, which is about $51,520 for a single person.

More than 2 million people who had already signed up for a plan returned to HealthCare.gov to adjust coverage to benefit from the new help.

After the changes kicked in, the median deductible among people signing up for plans fell from $450 to $50.

Biden has proposed making the expanded subsidies permanent as part of a $1.8 trillion package of education and safety net programs for families.

The administration had declined to estimate how many people would take advantage of the special enrollment period when announcing the effort to give a new coverage opportunity to Americans who lost their jobs and employer-based insurance during the pandemic.

The administration also dramatically increased spending on education and outreach, which had been slashed by the previous administration.

Biden said his actions were designed to “undo the damage" done by former President Donald Trump to the Affordable Care Act, which Trump tried – and failed – to repeal.

Many people are still unaware of the increased premium assistance, said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health research organization.

"So, with increased outreach," he tweeted, "the number of signups could climb to well over 1 million."

Even before subsidies were expanded, the foundation estimated in January that 9 million uninsured Americans would be eligible for free or reduced-cost coverage if marketplace enrollment was reopened. That's nearly 60 percent of the approximately 15 million uninsured people in the U.S. who could shop for health insurance coverage on the ACA Marketplaces.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Obamacare sign-ups top 1M during special COVID-19 enrollment period