Unemployed Americans will be able to sign up for hefty subsidies for 2021 coverage on the federal Affordable Care Act exchange starting July 1, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.
The benefit, part of the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion rescue package enacted in March, allows anyone who receives or is approved to receive unemployment compensation during the year to select policies for as little as $0 a month in premiums and with little cost-sharing requirements, after federal assistance.
The subsidies are tied to the benchmark silver plan, so those who pick higher-level policies might have to pay a premium. The same goes for those who live in states that require plans to cover additional benefits, such as abortion, that are beyond the law’s essential health benefits.
An average of three out of five eligible uninsured Americans can access $0 plans after subsidies are factored in, and an average of four out of five current consumers will be able to select a policy for $10 or less per month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
It took longer for the agency to enact this provision than the relief law’s subsidy enhancement for all Obamacare enrollees, which was rolled out on April 1, because the assistance for the jobless did not exist before.
The uninsured can sign up for coverage on the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, through August 15, while those already covered can return to the marketplace to update their information and, possibly, receive larger subsidies.
States that run their own exchanges have their own timetables, and some may have slightly different rules. In California, for instance, the jobless can sign up for Silver 94 plans for $1 a month. Those covered by that policy pay $5 to see a primary care provider, have an annual deductible of $75 and can access outpatient services that are not subject to the deductible.
Hundreds of thousands of Golden State residents are eligible, according to Covered California.
Other help for health care coverage
The March relief package also made two changes to premium subsidies for all enrollees to address long-standing complaints that Obamacare plans are not affordable for many people, particularly the middle class.
Enrollees now pay no more than 8.5% of their income toward coverage, down from nearly 10%. And lower-income policyholders can receive subsidies that eliminate their premiums completely.
Also, those earning more than the current cap of 400% of the federal poverty level — about $51,000 for an individual and $104,800 for a family of four in 2021 — are now eligible for help for the first time.
Laid-off workers who want to remain on their employer health insurance plans through COBRA don’t have to pay any premiums from April through September, under the relief law.
Expanding enrollment period for 2022
Separately, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed Tuesday that open enrollment for 2022 coverage on the federal exchange should run a month longer than it had under the Trump administration. Consumers would be able to sign up for policies from November 1 to January 15.
Under the Obama administration, open enrollment ran through the end of January.
Also, the proposed rule would create a monthly special enrollment period for Americans with household incomes no greater than 150% of the poverty level — a little more than $19,000 for 2021 — to sign up for premium-free or low-cost coverage on the federal exchange.
The proposed rule would also roll back several efforts by the Trump administration to weaken the landmark health reform law. It would repeal an option that would allow states to let consumers enroll directly through web brokers, insurance agents and health insurers. It also would tighten up the guardrails for waivers that permit states to modify their Obamacare exchanges, superseding a 2018 rule issued by the Trump administration that broadened what changes would be allowed.
The Trump administration last year allowed Georgia to pursue a privatization plan. CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure earlier this month wrote to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, asking the state to submit an updated analysis of its plan.
The proposal would also end the separate-billing regulation that requires Obamacare insurers to send a separate bill for the portion of the premium attributable to abortion coverage, for which federal funding is prohibited, and to require consumers to pay that bill separately.
Instead, the regulation would revert back to the 2016 policy allowing insurers to select a method that complies with the Affordable Care Act’s separate-payment requirement. A federal judge blocked the Trump regulation last summer.
Sending two separate bills leads to consumer confusion and loss of coverage, the agency said.