HHS reports 940K new Obamacare customers in a ‘special’ enrollment period

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Health Secretary Xavier Becerra on Thursday said 940,000 people have selected health coverage on the main Obamacare sign-up website since the start of a special enrollment period in February.

President Biden ordered HealthCare.gov to reopen this year, citing shocks from the pandemic, while convincing Democratic allies in Congress to make Obamacare more attractive by approving bigger premium subsidies as part of their $1.9 trillion relief package.

The special enrollment period was supposed to last until mid-May but Mr. Biden extended it to August as he tries to herd more customers into the program he championed with former President Barack Obama in 2010.

HealthCare.gov serves three dozen states that didn’t bother to set up websites where people can shop for Obamacare plans and qualify for assistance.

The federal marketplace and state-run sites typically attract 8 million to 10 million customers per year during standard enrollment periods in the fall, giving it a steady customer base but not as many users as Obamacare’s framers envisioned.

Mr. Biden‘s coronavirus bill, or American Rescue Plan, temporarily increased subsidies across the board and made people earning over 400% above the poverty line eligible for subsidies for the first time, removing the income cap and offering financial help if “benchmark” premiums exceed 8.5% of income.

Mr. Becerra said nearly 2 million existing enrollees have returned to the website to take advantage of the enhanced taxpayer-funded assistance.

Mr. Biden wants Congress to make the enhanced subsidies permanent so they don’t expire after 2022.

Budget analyses suggest Mr. Biden‘s subsidy plan is a pricey way to try to herd people into the exchanges, so Republicans want the administration to focus on the underlying costs of health care instead of throwing more money at subsidies.

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