HHS: 2 million people chose health plans during enrollment period

Becerra does not rule out extending the special enrollment period beyond Aug. 15

“The pandemic has illustrated that it is more important than ever to have the right health coverage,” says Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human Services. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
“The pandemic has illustrated that it is more important than ever to have the right health coverage,” says Xavier Becerra, secretary of Health and Human Services. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 14, 2021 at 5:41pm

More than 2 million people have signed up for health insurance coverage on the federal or state exchanges from mid-February through the end of June during a special enrollment period, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

The report includes the 600,000 people who signed up for a plan on one of the 15 state-based exchanges, who were not included in last month's report that found 1.2 million people had selected a plan on the federal HealthCare.gov website. As of the end of last month, that number rose to 1.5 million.

"Families across our country have faced extraordinary circumstances, due to COVID-19, this public health emergency, and the pandemic has illustrated that it is more important than ever to have the right health coverage," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said. "That's why President Biden opened the special enrollment periods to help uninsured Americans enroll in coverage during the pandemic."

About 2.5 million people returned to the marketplace during the special enrollment period to make changes to their plans after a March COVID-19 relief law enhanced consumers' premium tax credits, giving people new options with less expensive premiums.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure told reporters the agency doesn't have updated numbers of the total number of people enrolled in marketplace plans, but she called it a "fair assumption" that marketplace enrollment is at an all-time high.

That follows a February report that found 81 million people were enrolled in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, indicating record-high enrollment for those programs. Democrats on Capitol Hill are considering different ideas to extend Medicaid eligibility to people in 12 states that have not expanded their programs, although Becerra did not back a specific proposal.

Becerra did not rule out extending the special enrollment period beyond Aug. 15, when it is currently set to end.

"Clearly, the record numbers that are taking advantage of the special enrollment period show that folks are interested," he said. "I don't believe the president wants to leave anyone behind, and so we'll take a close look. We'll wait for word as well from the president to find out what his preferences are."

The special enrollment period because of the COVID-19 crisis comes after the Trump administration declined to open one during the early stages of the pandemic, saying that people who lost a job — and, with it, their employer-sponsored coverage — already qualified to sign up for a marketplace plan under existing rules.

Republicans typically have not touted the marketplace coverage, which was created under the 2010 health care law that many GOP lawmakers opposed in part because of its expansion of the federal government.

"When you make coverage affordable, when you make it easy for people to enroll, they will do so, and I think that's why we're seeing record enrollment in the Medicaid program, and that's why we're seeing record enrollment in the marketplaces," Brooks-LaSure told reporters, adding that enrollment increased again after the enhanced premium tax credits became available.

Those enhanced tax credit subsidies for insurance are set to expire after 2022, but President Joe Biden has said Congress should make them permanent before then. A senior Democratic aide said a high-level agreement among Democrats on the Budget Committee for a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package would extend those more generous subsidies, but the duration hasn't been determined.