Obamacare Has Added 1 Million New Enrollees: Why That’s Important

Experts say newly added subsidies have made Obamacare insurance plans more appealing. FG Trade/Getty Images

Nearly 1 million people have enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans under a special enrollment period that lasts until Aug. 15.E…

Experts say newly added subsidies have made Obamacare insurance plans more appealing. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Nearly 1 million people have enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans under a special enrollment period that lasts until Aug. 15.
  • Experts say many of the new enrollees are people who have lost health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • They say the additional subsidies the Biden administration has added have made signing up more appealing.
  • Experts add that confusion and a lack of information may be preventing other people from enrolling.

The new deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, as it’s more commonly known, is Aug. 15.

Already, however, nearly 1 million people have done so during a special enrollment period.

And that’s just the numbers from the 36 states that participate in the federal exchange. Fourteen other states as well as Washington, D.C., have their own exchanges.

Charles Gaba is an analyst who has been tracking Obamacare enrollment since the program began in October 2013.

He estimates that number could spike to 1.5 million people once you add enrollees from the state exchanges.

Special enrollment period

President Biden called for a special enrollment period that began Feb. 15 to allow more people to sign up for healthcare during the pandemic.

The 1 million sign-ups came within the first 3 months.

“It shows there is a significant need,” said Jodi Ray, an instructor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida and a program director of the nonprofit Florida Covering Kids & Families.

“Some people have not only lost their jobs, but their employer-sponsored insurance. They may have kids who need coverage,” Ray told Healthline. “We see so many people who are struggling, and being able to have healthcare access they can afford is a big deal.”

Subsidies make a difference

Experts say one reason more people are coming to the ACA marketplace now is because the 2-year subsidies included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar American Rescue Plan made it more affordable. The subsidies kicked in on April 1.

“I did one recently where a woman was paying 42 cents,” Ray noted.

Officials at the federal Health and Human Services Department said the subsidies also prompted nearly 2 million people already enrolled in Obamacare to come back to the marketplace and take advantage of the discounts.

Many people reduced their monthly premiums by more than 40 percent, going from $100 to $57 on average.

Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow in health reform and private insurance for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the Biden administration also got rid of some barriers to eligibility.

“They’ve made it easier for people to participate in special enrollments. You don’t have to have a ‘qualifying event.' You don’t need to prove it. You just come in,” Pollitz told Healthline.

And she said the numbers tell the story.

“In April 2019, about 95,000 people enrolled. In April 2020, it doubled to about 181,000. That’s not so surprising because it was the time of the pandemic, people were starting to get laid off and some of them found their way to the marketplace,” she said. “Now in April 2021, more than 400,000 have signed up.”

“This is the first month where we’ve seen the combined effects of the marketplace being easier to access and the subsidies being stronger,” Pollitz added.

Why don’t more people sign up?

In 2019, before the pandemic, nearly 33 million people under the age of 65 did not have health insurance in the United States.

And while ACA enrollment numbers are going back up, many more people may have lost their health insurance coverage when they lost their jobs during the economic downturn. Florida, for example, signed up more than 2 million people during last fall's open enrollment period.

Experts suspect there could be many more people who could qualify for the new, more affordable ACA coverage. One of the problems is getting the information to them.

“There are hard to reach populations. Some are discouraged,” Pollitz said. “We did a survey last summer looking at people who shop in the marketplace and people who are uninsured. We found that 75 percent of uninsured people don’t even bother to look anymore. They don’t believe there’s anything out there for them.”

“Some people don’t have internet access. There are language barriers, insurance literacy barriers, and it’s a pandemic,” she added.

One of the problems experts point to is the need for more navigators who can help enrollees wade through the sometimes complicated onboarding process. Funding was cut during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has put some money back in the budget for them.

“I have maybe 50 people on the ground doing enrollment work for the entire state of Florida, and those are mostly part time,” Ray said. “We’ve all been busy.”

Ray said her “Covering Florida” team goes to community events and works with faith-based organizations and businesses to help get people enrolled.

“It takes people in the community willing to be engaged and it takes people to go into communities and inform them,” she explained. “Sometimes there are language barriers, transportation issues, sometimes people are hard to reach. There’s no one-size-fits-all.”

What you need to know

The special enrollment period is open until Aug. 15. If your state does not participate in the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov can direct you to information about your state’s exchange. 

Health and Human Services officials say 4 out of 5 enrollees should be able to find a plan for $10 or less a month after the tax credits. 

If you want to get an idea of costs, the Kaiser Family Foundation has put together an interactive health insurance marketplace calculator that reflects the new subsidies.