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Obamacare Sign-Ups Reach Record as Virus Rocks Job-Based Coverage

todayDecember 22, 2021 7

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A record number of Americans have signed up for health plans through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces for 2022, after Congress lowered the cost of Obamacare insurance and the pandemic rocked many Americans’ employer-provided coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services said on Wednesday that 13.6 million people had enrolled in coverage that will begin on Jan. 1, more than in any previous year of the program. Enrollment remains open until Jan. 15 for those who want coverage that would begin in February.

“What a great day it is to really see how the programs are working as they are intended,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which manages the marketplaces, told reporters on a conference call.

The Biden administration has invested heavily in promoting the availability of insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and expanded the network of professionals available to help people enroll. But Ms. Brooks-LaSure said she thinks the main driver of the enrollment increase was the lower prices most Americans would pay.

A stimulus bill passed by Congress in March made many more Americans eligible for financial assistance in buying Obamacare plans. For most people with low incomes, comprehensive coverage is available for no premium.

Health officials said that enrollment gains were the largest in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs, where Americans with incomes just above the poverty level qualify for Obamacare plans instead of Medicaid. Enrollment in Georgia grew by a third from last year, and enrollment in Texas increased by more than a quarter.

Other factors probably helped drive the enrollment boom as well. The economic disruptions of the pandemic mean that some Americans who lost job-based coverage may be purchasing their own plans now. And the Biden administration substantially increased its spending on advertising and other forms of outreach to make people aware of their options.

“The messaging angle here is also really important to even get people to the door,” said Cynthia Cox, the director of the program on the Affordable Care Act at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “And the subsidies make it more appealing to walk through the door to actually sign up.”

The administration also established a long “special enrollment period” related to the pandemic through the spring and summer. Millions of new customers signed up for insurance then and are renewing now.

The enhanced subsidies are scheduled to expire at the end of 2022. Democrats in Congress hope to extend them through 2025 as part of their large social spending and climate bill, but that legislation is currently stalled in the Senate.

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