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The website on a computer screen on Oct. 23, 2018.Patrick Sison / AP file

Billions in ACA benefits become available thanks to relief package

Biden administration officials have reprogrammed, making billions of dollars in benefits available to tens of millions of Americans.


When President Joe Biden first signed the Democrats' COVID relief package into law, much of the focus was on the direct benefits many Americans would receive thanks to direct-aid checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, and a new child tax credit.

But don't forget about the health care benefits. As the New York Times reported late yesterday, Biden administration officials have apparently reprogrammed, making billions of dollars in benefits available to tens of millions of Americans.

Nearly everyone with an Affordable Care Act health plan can now qualify for increased financial help with premiums by going back to the website. Many Americans who buy their own insurance outside the A.C.A. marketplaces may also qualify for substantial help, and may benefit from reviewing options and switching to an eligible plan. Uninsured Americans also qualify.

We're not just talking about a few bucks here and there. 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.

There are some relevant details to keep in mind, though. For one thing, the subsidies are not automatically applied -- consumers have to go get them by logging in sometime between now and Aug. 15. With that in mind, the White House is poised to launch an ad campaign to help get the word out.

For another, much of the country relies on state-based exchange marketplaces, and they may take a bit longer to update their systems.

Finally, there's one nagging detail: these generous new "Obamacare" subsidies are temporary, at least for now. The White House and congressional Democrats want to extend the benefits beyond next year, but that will require additional legislation.

As we discussed in early March, this sets the stage for an interesting election-season fight in 2022. Don't be surprised if Democrats tell voters next year that they want to make the insurance subsidies permanent, and the only way to make that happen is to keep Congress in Democrats' hands.

Health care helped propel Democrats to a U.S. House majority in 2018, and it may yet be one of the defining issues in the next midterm cycle, too.