WASHINGTON (AP) — In a solid start, more than 200,000 people signed up for coverage the first two weeks after President Joe Biden reopened HealthCare.gov as part of his coronavirus response, the government said Wednesday.
Early consumer interest in the three-month special enrollment period shows pent-up demand for health insurance a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people still unemployed or unable to work as many hours as before.
If the pace keeps up, “this special enrollment period could make a meaningful dent in the number of people uninsured,” said Larry Levitt, who tracks health insurance for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “The enrollment numbers so far are stronger than I would have expected.”
Biden called the sign-ups “an encouraging sign,” adding that “we can’t slow down until every American has the security and peace of mind that quality, affordable health coverage provides.”
Reopening the health insurance markets fits into Biden’s strategy of pushing the U.S. toward coverage for all by building on the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” HealthCare.gov offers taxpayer subsidized private health insurance, catering mainly to low- and moderate-income working people.
If Congress passes Biden’s coronavirus response bill, financial assistance for premiums will become considerably more generous, and a greater number of solid middle-class households would also qualify. Though the sweetened subsidies last only through the end of next year, their availability is expected to boost insurance coverage. The Democratic COVID-19 legislation also features incentives for states to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income adults.
The numbers released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that more than 206,000 people signed up for coverage from Feb. 15-28. The figures are partial, since they cover only the 36 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov insurance market. National enrollment will be higher when totals from states running their own insurance websites are factored in later.
Another 54,000 people who went to HealthCare.gov were found to be eligible for Medicaid, the agency reported.
HealthCare.gov will be accepting applications through May 15, a stretch about twice as long as the regular annual open enrollment. The government has a $50 million advertising budget for the sign-up period, five times what the Trump administration would spend on annual open enrollment.
Former President Donald Trump tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to repeal “Obamacare” and refused to reopen enrollment because of the pandemic. Biden’s special sign-up period features a special emphasis on reaching Black and Latino communities that have borne a heavy burden from COVID-19.
“Obamacare” now covers more than 20 million people through a combination of subsidized private plans and, in most states, expanded Medicaid.
Job losses during the pandemic have have increased the number of uninsured people, but it’s unclear by how much. Some experts estimate between 5 million to 10 million more uninsured, while the Congressional Budget Office suggests a lower number, closer to 3 million.
In total, the budget office estimates that about 33 million people are uninsured. That’s still less than when former President Barack Obama’s health care law was passed, but it marks a definite reversal from prior years in which the uninsured rate steadily declined.