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With the stroke of a pen, Biden strengthens Affordable Care Act

It was a big step when President Biden created a special new open-enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act, but that's not all he did.
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

We learned earlier this week that President Joe Biden was set to create a special new open-enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act, and yesterday, he did exactly that. Under a newly signed executive order, the president announced that the marketplace will invite consumers to get coverage during a three-month window, starting Feb. 15.

Last spring, as the coronavirus crisis first started to intensify, the Trump administration considered this step, but the Republican White House balked, to the surprise of nearly everyone involved in the process. As Politico reported, the decision appeared to be largely political: Team Trump didn't want to turn to "Obamacare" to help people in a crisis.

Biden, however, is not only creating a new enrollment period, the Democratic administration is also "planning an ad blitz" and forging "partnerships with community organizations and advocacy groups" on this -- steps his recent predecessor refused to consider.

But as NBC News reported, that's not the only thing the new president did yesterday to strengthen the existing health care system.

Biden signed an executive order Thursday directing federal agencies to reverse policies put in place by the Trump administration that weakened the insurance marketplace and made it more difficult for people to get Medicaid.... The order also directs agencies to re-examine Trump administration policies that undermine and make it more difficult for people to enroll in Medicaid or the insurance plans and make insurance less affordable.

For example, the Trump administration made it easier for people to buy bad and cheaper insurance, which did not cover pre-existing conditions. Biden's actions yesterday can't immediately undo what his predecessor did, but the new president has directed federal agencies to examine "policies or practices that may undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions," with the hopes of issuing new federal rules in the coming months.

As for Medicaid, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained yesterday that Biden's new order "specifically requires the Department of Health and Human Services to re-examine a Trump Administration policy encouraging states to take Medicaid coverage away from people who don't meet harsh work requirements, which led to large coverage losses but didn't increase employment."

A New York Times report added, "The Trump administration approved waivers in 12 states that would require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to work a minimum number of hours a week or risk losing their benefits. Four of those pilot programs have already been overturned by courts, and the Biden administration has the authority to end them all, although the Trump administration in its final weeks took steps to make that process more difficult."

Referring to his executive orders, Biden said yesterday, "The best way to describe them, is to undo the damage Trump has done. There's nothing new that we're doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president, which by fiat, he changed and made more inaccessible."

For health care advocates, whether the measures were "new" or not, simply undoing the damage Trump did was a huge step in the right direction.