- A record 14 million people signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during this latest enrollment period.
- Experts note more subsidies are available this year, making insurance premiums are lower.
- They warn, however, that financial assistance will disappear at the end of 2022 if Congress doesn’t renew the policies approved in the 2021 COVID-19 relief package.
President Joe Biden has announced that a record 14.5 million people signed up for health insurance programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the latest enrollment period.
The enrollment window for many people in the United States ended on Jan. 15. However, residents of California, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C., still have until Jan. 31 to register.
People who signed up by Dec. 15 saw their new policies kick in on Jan. 1. People who signed up between Dec. 16 and Jan. 15 will have their health coverage start on Feb. 1.
The enrollment record was sparked by an $80 million marketing campaign to build awareness as well as the financial assistance offered under the COVID-19 relief package approved last year that helped lower insurance premiums.
The record enrollment wasn’t unexpected.
Federal officials reported in mid-December that 4.6 million Americans had purchased health insurance early through healthcare.gov.
“[The] report is proof that our efforts are yielding results,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a press release in mid-December. “Thanks to our unprecedented outreach campaigns and investments from the American Rescue Plan, millions of people across the nation are gaining health insurance with lower premiums and more choices than ever. We will continue working to get more people covered throughout the remainder of the open enrollment period.”
In the near term, health insurance plans on the ACA are cheaper for the average consumer than previously offered.
Experts credit some of the tenets of the American Rescue Plan passed in March 2021, which significantly expanded subsidies for more middle-income Americans.
“That law eliminated the income cap for subsidy eligibility in 2021 and 2022, and also made subsidies larger for 2021 and 2022, by reducing the percentage of income that people have to pay to buy the benchmark plan (second-lowest-cost silver plan),” Louise Norris, a licensed broker and analyst for healthinsurance.org, told Healthline in December. “All of that is still in effect for 2022, so people who are shopping now will tend to see larger subsidies than they saw during last fall’s open enrollment period.”
The new law expands subsidies to ensure that no family spends more than 8.5 percent of their income on a benchmark plan.
According to federal officials, that should net out to a savings of $50 a person a month or $85 a policy a month. In addition, half of the enrollees should be able to obtain a Silver-level plan for $10 or less a month.
And premiums are down even before those changes are factored in.
“The average premium for a 2022 benchmark ACA [plan] is about 3 percent lower than for 2021, so that’s good news,” said Nathan Teater, a sales manager at eHealth, a website that helps shoppers compare health plans. “When you couple that with the extension of subsidy eligibility to more consumers, a lot of ACA plan enrollees will be paying less from their own pockets toward premiums next year.”
The additional subsidies in effect now will expire on Dec. 31, 2022, unless Congress approves President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which would extend these subsidies through 2025.
“The Build Back Better Act is still up in the air,” Norris said. “But if the version that passed the House is enacted, there will be additional improvements to coverage availability and affordability.”
“The [president’s plan] would grant $0 benchmark plans to people receiving unemployment compensation in 2022 and would also close the Medicaid coverage gap for the next few years by granting full subsidies and robust cost-sharing reductions to people who are stuck in the coverage gap in 11 states that have thus far refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA,” she explained.
And plans may change depending on the course of COVID-19 in the United States as well.
“If – fingers crossed – the COVID pandemic finally begins to wind down in 2022, we may also see some changes to coverage,” Teater said. “Early in the pandemic, many insurers voluntarily expanded coverage for COVID-related testing and treatment beyond the typical limits of their plans. In a recent survey of health insurance companies that eHealth works with, we reported that 38 percent of insurers have already reduced, or plan to reduce, those voluntarily expanded benefits.”