President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order Thursday that would reopen health insurance marketplaces for a special enrollment period, potentially giving millions of Americans additional access to health coverage as the country enters the second year of a pandemic. The usual six-week enrollment period typically takes place in November and December, where individuals can select health insurance plans for the coming year. As the coronavirus swept across the country early last year, afflicting tens of millions, hospitalizing millions more, and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, then-President Donald Trump refused to reopen the federal exchanges to allow more people to get health coverage. Nearly a dozen states, however, extended their enrollment periods last spring.
During the campaign, Biden pledged to reopen the healthcare.gov insurance markets as part of a broad push to combat the virus. The length of the special enrollment period remains uncertain but is not expected to go into effect immediately, instead allowing time for the administration to publicize the effort and insurers to prepare for a surge in new customers. The health care law currently insures 23 million people through subsidized private insurance and expanded access to Medicaid in three-quarters of states.
Making enrollment easier would likely boost the number of insured, but many Americans who did not have access to health insurance when the pandemic started had the opportunity to sign up just before Christmas during the end-of-the-year enrollment period. Those with insurance tied to their employer who have lost their jobs are already automatically given the opportunity to buy coverage in a special enrollment period.
“Of some 28 million uninsured Americans before the pandemic, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, more than 16 million were eligible for some form of subsidized coverage through the health law,” the Associated Press reports. “Experts agree that number of uninsured people has risen because of layoffs, perhaps by 5 million to 10 million, but authoritative estimates await government studies due later this year.”