Editorial: Reopening Affordable Care Act marketplace is good policy, good politics

Tribune Content Agency

We don’t expect the Trump administration to set aside its longstanding opposition to the Affordable Care Act, but it should reconsider its recent decision not to reopen the ACA marketplaces to new customers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Opening the exchanges would help address growing fears about people going uninsured during this unprecedented public health crisis.

A special enrollment period would help millions of uninsured Americans, including nearly 3 million in Florida, who have changed their minds about buying health insurance either because they didn’t think they would get sick or because they didn’t think they could afford the premiums.

A special enrollment period also would let those who bought bare-bones plans before last December’s deadline buy better coverage.

And while those who’ve lost their jobs are eligible to enroll in the ACA — job loss qualifies as a “ life-changing event” — a special enrollment period would make the process a lot easier by eliminating their need to provide proof of lost coverage.

In Florida, the federal government runs the marketplace exchange through healthcare.gov. More than 1.9 million Floridians signed up for it last year. The number would be higher, but the 2017 tax cut law repealed the mandate that Americans carry health insurance.

Florida Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to reopen ACA enrollment, no matter the president’s desire to replace the law that creates these exchanges.

At the same time, they’re asking the administration to drop its “reckless” lawsuit against ACA, which is headed toward the Supreme Court, though not in time for a final decision before the November election.

If that lawsuit is successful, virtually everyone in America would be affected, not just those the 11.4 million who obtain health insurance through the exchanges. For the ACA also guarantees private insurance coverage for people with preexisting medical conditions, allows children to remain on parental health plans until they are 26 and prohibits insurers from charging copays for preventive screenings for breast and colon cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, among other things.

“In the middle of this public health crisis, we need to be expanding access to health care, not making it more difficult,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told reporters on April 7.

The administration had considered the possibility of reopening enrollment, which has happened occasionally in the past, typically after natural disasters.

President Donald Trump mentioned the possibility during one of his news briefings. Top health insurance executives expected the announcement at the beginning of this month and were preparing to accept new enrollees, Politico reported.

However, the administration reversed course, Politico reported, because senior aides feared insurers would later demand a federal bailout to cope with the rising medical costs of the newly insured.

One thing is for certain, though. If the uninsured end up in the emergency room, we will all pay for them.

We urge the he administration to follow the lead of 11 states and the District of Columbia that run their own exchanges and have reopened their doors to new enrollees. Open the doors to people in the other 38 states, too.

The coronavirus has upended all of our lives. We’re all at risk of catching the deadly virus. Letting people buy health insurance would give them one less worry.

Letting Floridians and other Americans obtain health insurance during this unprecedented crisis would be a win-win for everyone.


©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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