Biden administration fixes health care 'glitch' in Affordable Care Act

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The ‘most significant’ changes to Obamacare will prevent families from being charged more than others receiving subsidized health insurance through the program.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that the Treasury Department is finalizing a federal rule to fix a provision in the Affordable Care Act that has prevented some people from signing up for health care coverage. The new rule will allow more people to sign up for coverage during the open enrollment period that starts on Nov. 1.

"About 1 million Americans will either gain coverage or see their insurance become more affordable as a result of the new rule," Biden said in a statement released by the White House. "This marks the most significant administrative action to implement the Affordable Care Act since the law was first put into place."

A provision known as the "family glitch" prevents some family members from receiving subsidized health insurance. It bases eligibility for subsidies on individual employer policy costs and not on generally more expensive family policies.

The rule change was first proposed in April and will go into effect beginning in 2023.

The administration had previously stated that changing the federal rule, which was included in the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," when it was enacted in 2010, would result in lower health care costs for about 1 million people and expand coverage to an additional 200,000 uninsured people.

The revised rule will broaden eligibility for subsidies. In a 2021 report, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 5.1 million people are currently affected by the glitch.

Biden hosted former President Barack Obama at a White House reception in April to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the act becoming law. At the time, the White House said that the change "would amount to the most significant administrative action to improve implementation of the ACA since its enactment."

Obama said during the reception, "What the Affordable Care Act shows is that if you are driven by the core idea that, together, we can improve the lives of this generation and the next, and if you're persistent — if you stay with it and are willing to work through the obstacles and the criticism and continually improve where you fall short, you can make America better — you can have an impact on millions of lives."

Obama mentioned the proposed fix to the "glitch" as evidence that the Biden administration is "committed to making a program work."

The administration also announced in August that the Department of Health and Human Services would invest $98.9 million in grants to 59 organizations, known as "Navigators," that are working to help people sign up for coverage.

"These awards will enable Navigator organizations to retain staff and add to the more than 1,500 existing Navigators who were trained to help consumers find affordable, comprehensive health coverage," the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement.

The Biden administration's support for the Affordable Care Act follows years of attacks against and restrictions of it by former President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

While running for president in 2016, Trump promised to deliver on previous Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act.

Trump and House Republicans proposed and passed legislation to repeal "Obamacare" in May 2017, despite concerns that as many as 14 million people would lose coverage as a result. Nearly all of the Republicans in the Senate backed the legislation, but it failed to pass in July 2017 in the face of opposition from all Senate Democrats and three Republican senators.

The Trump administration significantly reduced funding for the Navigator program in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years.

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities research organization noted in September 2018 that:

the Trump Administration’s sharp cuts in overall navigator funding in the last two years mean that many consumers who buy insurance through HealthCare.gov will be on their own to complete the complex application and enrollment process to get affordable health coverage. The defunding of navigator programs erects another obstacle to enrollment in the ACA marketplaces, even as new Census figures show that progress in reducing the uninsured rate stalled in 2017, likely due in part to other Administration efforts to undermine the ACA.

Trump also cut the advertising budget used to inform consumers about the open enrollment period, reducing it to $10 million in his first year in office, down from $100 million in the last year of Obama's term.

Following the first open enrollment period under Biden, who was vice president when the ACA was enacted, his administration announced in January that a record 14.5 million people had signed up for coverage.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.