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Image: Operations At CCI Health And Wellness Services Clinics As Obamacare Insurers Struggle For Stability
A medical doctor, right, examines a patient at a CCI Health and Wellness Services health center in Gaithersburg, Maryland on April 18, 2017.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Why the new ACA open-enrollment totals matter

As one observer put it, "So this is what it looks like when the people in charge of 'Obamacare' want to enroll as many people as possible."


Last spring, as the coronavirus crisis first started to intensify, the Trump administration considered creating a special open-enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act. While this was generally seen as a no-brainer, the Republican White House balked, to the surprise of nearly everyone involved in the process. As Politico reported one year ago this week, the decision appeared to be largely political: Team Trump didn't want to turn to "Obamacare" to help people in a crisis.

That was then; this is now.

About a week after Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden signed an executive order, re-opening the marketplace. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, it had the intended effects.

More than a half million Americans have taken advantage of the Biden administration's special health insurance sign-up window keyed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced Wednesday in anticipation that even more consumers will gain coverage in the coming months.... The numbers released Wednesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that 528,005 people newly signed up for government-sponsored private plans from Feb. 15 to Mar. 31.

These are heartening numbers, but they actually understate the scope of the good news. As the New York Times added, "The new enrollment figures cover the 36 states that use 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."

What's more, this good news predates 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.

While all of this is heartening in its own terms, let's not brush past the political implications. HuffPost's Jonathan Cohn noted yesterday, "So this is what it looks like when the people in charge of 'Obamacare' want to enroll as many people as possible."

Exactly. At issue is a matter of political will. Donald Trump and his team could've taken each of these steps 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 former president didn't want to, so he didn't.

Team Biden, on the other hand, not only created a new enrollment period, the Democratic administration also launched an "ad blitz" and forged "partnerships with community organizations and advocacy groups" on this -- steps his recent predecessor refused to consider.

The current administration wants more Americans to get coverage they can afford, and it's taken effective steps to make that happen. The results speak for themselves.