When Americans were first offered an opportunity to get health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the rollout was slow and difficult. Republican opponents of "Obamacare" rejoiced, mocking early and unimpressive enrollment figures.
Those critics did not, however, get the last laugh. President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama seemed to enjoy making some news on this front over the weekend.
Biden used his weekly address for a brief Zoom chat with Obama to draw attention to the six-month expanded enrollment period that closes Aug. 15. Meanwhile the government released a report that claims that nearly 31 million Americans — a record — now have health coverage through Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act. "We did this together," said Obama, whose administration established the health insurance marketplace.
In general, health care insiders have estimated in recent years that the ACA has extended coverage to roughly 20 million people. And while that's an impressive total in its own right, HHS has revised the coverage tally to 31 million: 11.3 million through exchange marketplaces, 14.8 million through the ACA's Medicaid expansion, 3.9 million who became eligible for traditional Medicaid through the ACA's improved eligibility standards, and 1 million through the Affordable Care Act's Basic Health Program option.
What's more, HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn noted that by some measures, the Biden administration is probably undercounting the most up-to-date figure.
The latest enrollment figures do not include the past few months when Biden reopened enrollment and the Democratic COVID-19 relief bill made that new assistance available. "The actual total as of TODAY could be as high as 33.5 million...or 10% of the entire U.S. population," Charles Gaba, health care analyst from ACASignups.net, noted on Twitter.
No wonder Biden and Obama looked so happy in the White House video.
All of this coincides with the Democratic president's special open-enrollment period, which more than a million Americans have already taken advantage of. They can continue to do so: the window doesn't close until August.
What's more, this good news coincides with the expansive new ACA benefits included in the Democrats' COVID relief package: some have seen their premiums cut in half, while millions have seen their premiums fall to literally zero, thanks entirely to the investments in the American Rescue Plan.
As we've discussed, the issue is one of political will. Trump and his team could've taken these steps more than a year ago. The options were on the table to create new open-enrollment periods, alert the public to the coverage opportunities, make premiums even more affordable, and so on.
But the Republican administration didn't want to, so it didn't.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, wants more Americans to get coverage they can afford, and it's taken effective steps to make that happen. The results speak for themselves.
Postscript: It hasn't generated much political chatter lately, but we are still awaiting word from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether conservative justices will tear down the ACA system in its entirety. A ruling is expected sometime over the next few weeks.