But Biden’s more ambitious plans for bolstering the Affordable Care Act will require help from Congress. Democrats in full control of Washington, D.C., for the first time since the ACA’s passage face the challenge of maintaining Americans’ newfound affection for the law while addressing growing voter angst over soaring health care costs.
Democrats are betting that the pandemic’s health and economic crises will translate to support for Biden’s broader health agenda. Nearly 30 million people were uninsured before the coronavirus arrived — a number that had risen slightly during the Trump era — and an estimated 2-3 million were added to their ranks during the pandemic. The pandemic has made Obamacare more popular because the public is “so much more aware of needing a fallback,” argued Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
The upcoming special Obamacare enrollment period — an option that the Trump administration rejected early in the pandemic — will serve as an early test of Biden’s ability to build up the health care law.
The White House said it will reopen enrollment on HealthCare.gov, which serves most states, for a three-month window starting Feb. 15. California and Washington state are also planning to reopen enrollment in their state-run marketplaces, and Biden officials expect the other dozen-plus states overseeing enrollment will likely reopen for business.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the federal insurance marketplaces, said it would spend $50 million on an outreach campaign to promote enrollment — five times the amount that the Trump administration had spent on annual sign-up seasons.
So-called navigators who help people enroll in coverage said they are optimistic the new financial support could help juice enrollment. Trump had slashed HealthCare.gov’s marketing budget by 90 percent while reducing funds to navigator groups by nearly the same level. The previous administration contended it was running annual enrollment seasons more efficiently, but Obamacare advocates said the federal government was missing a chance to reach potential enrollees.
“We don’t have enough money to manage another open enrollment, and that’s consistent with navigators across the country because the cuts that came down over the past four years are so severe,” said Jodi Ray, who leads the nation’s largest navigator program in Florida. Under Trump, her organization’s annual funding was slashed from $9 million to $1.6 million.