WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will sign two executive actions Thursday designed to expand health care coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as removing Trump administration restrictions on abortion access.
In his first steps to address health care access, Biden will direct the Department of Health and Human Services to open a special enrollment period for HealthCare.gov, the federally run insurance marketplaces, from Feb. 15 to May 15, giving Americans who lost their jobs and employer-based insurance during the pandemic a chance to sign up for coverage.
Former President Donald Trump resisted calls for a special enrollment period for people who became uninsured during the pandemic and repeatedly sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s signature health care reform law. The ACA, or Obamacare, provides health insurance to more than 23 million people.
“For President Biden, this is personal,” the White House said in a statement. “As we continue to battle COVID-19, it is even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to affordable care.”
Nearly 9 million uninsured Americans could get free or subsidized health insurance through the special enrollment period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health research organization.
Through an outreach campaign expected to include advertising and partnerships with local organizations, the administration hopes to enroll people who may not be aware they’re eligible for coverage.
The president will also direct federal agencies to reexamine policies that undermine Obamacare, make it difficult for Americans to enroll in Medicaid or ones that reduce affordability of coverage or protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, tweeted that Biden’s actions “signal a dramatically different direction from the last four years.”
“But,” Levitt added, “there are a lot of details to be worked out and decisions to be made, which will in some cases take months if not years.”
Ending the ‘global gag rule’
Biden will also sign a memorandum to rescind the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” which bans U.S. funding for nongovernmental organizations abroad that provide abortion counseling or services.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized the move, saying it will “run over the consciences of American taxpayers and put them back on the hook for funding abortions overseas.”
Trump both restored and expanded the Mexico City Policy, which was started by the Reagan administration and has been turned off and on again depending on whether a Democrat or Republican holds the White House.
Biden will begin the process of undoing similar restrictions on domestic groups that receive federal family planning funds to serve uninsured and low-income populations. The number of clients served by the program dropped by about 840,000 – or 21% – after the Trump administration changed the rules for receiving Title X grants.
Advocates for reproductive rights are pushing the new administration to go beyond simply reversing Trump administration actions affecting abortion services and put in place new protections and expanded services.
Tackling reproductive rights:Some of Biden’s goals are easier than others
Health care was a key issue for voters in the 2020 presidential election and helped Democrats win back a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms.
During the campaign, Biden didn’t go as far as some in the party wanted in promising changes to the Affordable Care Act. But he backed expanding insurance subsidies, lowering the eligibility age for Medicare, and adding a government-run option that would compete against the private plans offered in the marketplace.
Those changes would require passing legislation through a closely-divided Congress.
The fate of the entire law, however, remains in the hands of the Supreme Court. In the latest legal challenge to Obamacare brought by Republicans, the court will decide whether Congress’ elimination in 2017 of the penalty imposed on consumers who refuse to buy health insurance invalidates the law.
Another Obamacare challenge:Supreme Court appears unlikely to topple Affordable Care Act