Just one week after his inauguration, President Joe Biden did what his predecessor would not: he issued an executive order to create a special enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act, citing a need created by the pandemic. Donald Trump was expected to do something similar, but the Republican refused, because he didn't want people turning to "Obamacare" for help during a crisis.
One million people have signed up for health coverage under an Affordable Care Act special enrollment period announced earlier this year, officials said Tuesday.
"That's 1 million more Americans who now have the peace of mind that comes from having health insurance," Biden said in a statement. "One million more Americans who don't have to lie awake at night worrying about what happens if they or one of their family members gets sick."
The president's victory lap is understandable, though as we've discussed, the heartening numbers, actually understate the scope of the good news. As the New York Times recently noted, "The new enrollment figures cover the 36 states that use Healthcare.gov to run their health insurance marketplaces. They do not include Americans enrolling in coverage in the 14 states and District of Columbia that manage their own markets, many of which also have extended enrollment periods this year."
According to Charles Gaba's research, the national total, including the states with their own exchange marketplaces, is roughly 1.5 million.
These are the kind of numbers that may help lower the U.S. uninsured rate, which inched higher during the Trump era, after dramatic Obama-era improvements.
What's more, this good news coincides with the expansive new ACA benefits included in the Democrats' COVID relief package: some will see their premiums cut in half, while millions will see their premiums fall to literally zero, thanks entirely to the investments in the American Rescue Plan.
That's working well, too: the Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that after the new ACA benefits kicked in on April 1, nearly 2 million consumers -- who already had coverage -- returned to the marketplace and reduced their monthly premiums.
HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn recently noted, "So this is what it looks like when the people in charge of 'Obamacare' want to enroll as many people as possible."
Quite right. 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 month or so.