White House balks at new ACA open-enrollment period

In light of the crisis, Trump administration officials were prepared to launch a special ACA enrollment period. Then they changed direction.
Image: Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare
A sign directs people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in Miami, Florida, in 2015.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

The open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act ended months ago, but in light of the coronavirus crisis, many officials and insurance-industry leaders made the case that it was time for a new open-enrollment period. There were some early signs that this might even happen.

The Wall Street Journal reported nearly two weeks ago that the Trump administration appeared ready to open up the process for a special enrollment period. Politico reported last night, however, that the administration has decided to keep the window closed.

President Donald Trump and administration officials recently said they were considering relaunching HealthCare.gov, the federal enrollment site, and insurers said they privately received assurances from health officials overseeing the law's marketplace. However, a White House official on Tuesday evening told POLITICO the administration will not reopen the site for a special enrollment period, and that the administration is "exploring other options."

The news comes with some caveats. For example, under "Obamacare," those who lose employer-based coverage are eligible to enroll. What's more, a third of the states maintain their own exchange marketplaces, and 12 states have created limited enrollment periods in response to the crisis. If the Politico reporting is correct, the Trump administration's decision will not affect those efforts.

The Wall Street Journal had a related report this week, fleshing out related options for those who lose their health insurance during the crisis, pointing to Medicaid and COBRA as other possibilities for some.

As for White House officials "exploring other options," it's not at all clear what those might be or when we'll hear about them.

Lingering in the background, meanwhile, is the Republican lawsuit to tear down the ACA in its entirety, which is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Daily Beast reported this week, "The worsening coronavirus outbreak may be stretching the limits of the U.S. health care system and overwhelming state governments, but that isn't deterring a group of 18 state attorneys general from plowing ahead with a lawsuit that could overturn the Affordable Care Act within a year -- a move that could disrupt the health care system at a time of deep crisis."

The case may have been filed by Republican attorneys general, but the White House has thrown its full support behind the litigation.