EDITORIAL: Shout it from the rooftops — help is available for uninsured Americans

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
This image provided by U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service shows the website for HealthCare.gov.
  • There's a special three-month open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act.
  • The new window started Monday and lasts through May 15.
  • It offers the nation's 33 million uninsured a chance to get help with their health-care costs.

For the past few weeks, Donald Trump’s Senate trial sucked nearly all of the oxygen out of our national political atmosphere.

There was precious little air left in our lungs to discuss anything else.

That’s a shame, on multiple levels, because there are many other serious problems that we need to address right now, most notably the health of our citizens during a global pandemic that has claimed nearly 2.5 million lives worldwide.

Monday, however, offered a glimmer of good news on that front, and it should not go unnoticed. That’s the day when HealthCare.gov’s market for subsidized health plans reopened for a special three-month sign-up window.

'Obamacare' sign-ups reopen as Democrats push for more aid

To the millions of uninsured Americans, it was welcome news. Even better news, the Democratic-led Congress is pushing a boost in financial help that could significantly cut premiums.

With many families in economic peril because of lost jobs caused by the COVID-19 crisis, such a move is desperately needed.

A test for the Biden administration: This added enrollment period is being viewed as an early test of President Joe Biden’s strategy to use the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare,” as a springboard toward health coverage for all.

Advancing on a parallel track, the new COVID-19 relief bill from House Democrats would offer a generous, though temporary, increase in subsidies for people covered by “Obamacare.”

“It is a hugely important signaling move,” said Katherine Hempstead of the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The administration is doing more than having open enrollment here, they're saying they want to make this coverage more affordable.”

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We couldn’t agree more. “Obamacare” is far from a perfect vehicle, thanks largely to the inability of Republicans and Democrats to work together in crafting the law. Still, it is the best option available to the estimated 33 million Americans who are uninsured.

Now those Americans have an added opportunity to sign up for “Obamacare.”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear how uninsured Americans will respond. Former President Barack Obama's health law has been on the books for more than a decade, but surveys consistently show that many people lacking job-based insurance don’t realize they may qualify.

President Joe Biden

Getting the word out: That needs to change. That’s also why it’s so important that uninsured folks are made aware of this new enrollment period. We need to shout it from the rooftops, if necessary.

The Biden administration seems to understand that.

HealthCare.gov will accept applications through May 15, a period about twice as long as the normal annual open enrollment period. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the program, has a $50 million advertising budget, five times what the Trump administration would spend on annual open enrollment. Under Biden, there will be a special emphasis on reaching Black and Latino communities that have borne a heavy burden from COVID-19.

Across the nation, people in the 36 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace will be able to apply. Additionally, most states that run their own marketplaces are matching the federal effort, giving it the feel of a national campaign.

The appeal for uninsured people could become much clearer if Congress increases premium subsidies as part of its next virus relief package.

Put all those factors together and the potential exists to help some folks in desperate need.

We must make sure, however, that they know help is available.