With Obama's help, Biden announces proposed fix to ACA's 'family glitch'
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Tuesday proposed a way to increase the number of dependents who can get subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a fix to what has been called the "family glitch."
The proposal: If a workplace plan for a whole family costs more than 10% of a family's income, then the worker's spouse and children could get help purchasing a private plan through the Obamacare marketplace.
“The Affordable Care Act is stronger than it’s ever been," Biden said at a White House event attended by former President Barack Obama. "And today, we’re strengthening it even further.”
The change, which would take effect as early as next year, could allow an estimated 200,000 people without insurance to gain coverage, according to the White House.
About 1 million people might be able to switch to a more affordable plan.
The change, which must complete a rule-making process, is the biggest step the Biden administration can take without Congress to improve affordability under the ACA, according to Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, accused the administration of usurping Congress' authority. She said the change will chip away at employer-sponsored coverage and increase the cost of Obamacare borne by taxpayers.
No Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act, and GOP lawmakers tried unsuccessfully during the Trump administration to repeal it.
"We need to keep up the fight," Biden said of Republicans' "unrelenting" attacks on the ACA.
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Obama, making his first return visit to the White House since leaving office, smiled broadly and waved to members of the audience who had worked on the law.
Saying he was quoting a “famous American,” Obama called the ACA a “pretty big deal” – a cleaned-up version of Biden’s 2010 description of the law that he hadn’t realized was being captured by a microphone.
"Barack, let me remind you, it's a hot mic," Biden later ribbed back as he turned to sign an executive order.
Before diving into the health care discussion, Obama had joked that there had been a lot of changes in the White House since he was there. Secret Service agents have to wear aviator sunglasses. The Navy mess has been replaced with a Baskin-Robbins. And there's a cat running around.
“Bo and Sunny would have been very unhappy,” Obama said of the dogs that scampered through the White House during his administration.
"Welcome back to the White House, man," Biden said. "It feels like the good old days."
The exception? When the two had lunch before the event, they didn’t know who should sit where, Biden said, referring to presidential protocol.
The largest expansion of health care since the ACA's passage in 2010 occurred through the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Biden signed into law last year. That pandemic package increased Obamacare insurance subsidies to those who were already eligible for help through state and federal marketplaces. It also made help newly available to people earning more than four times the federal poverty level.
But the boost expires in December.
Legislation to extend the expanded subsidies was part of Biden's "Build Back Better" plan that stalled in the Senate.
Fixing the "family glitch" has been in the works since Biden signed an executive order, during his first days in office, directing agencies to review the actions they could take to make health care more accessible and affordable.
The administration wants to change when insurance coverage offered by an employer is considered unaffordable, making the worker's family members eligible for a subsidized marketplace plan.
Currently, a workplace plan is considered affordable if coverage solely for the employee costs less than 9.83% of the worker's household income. That calculation doesn't take into account the cost of including family members on the plan.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 5.1 million people are affected by how the IRS initially wrote the regulation when interpreting the ACA. Most have insurance through an employer but are paying high premiums.
For various reasons, not all of those affected would take up marketplace plans once the glitch is fixed. For example, because only the family members – and not the worker – would become eligible for a marketplace plan, some may find it more convenient to keep the entire family on one plan.
More: Record 14.5 million Americans sign up for Obamacare during open enrollment for 2022 plans
A record 14.5 million people bought an ACA marketplace plan during open enrollment for 2022 coverage.
Besides temporarily expanding subsidies,the administration quadrupled the number of people available to assist with enrollment through HealthCare.gov.
Maureen Groppe has covered Washington for nearly three decades and is now a White House correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @mgroppe.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden, Barack Obama at White House for Affordable Care Act changes