As President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief package steams through Congress, Democrats have hitched a ride for a top health care priority: strengthening the Affordable Care Act with some of the most significant changes to insurance affordability in more than a decade.
The bill would spend $34 billion to help Americans who buy insurance on the marketplaces created by the ACA through 2022, when the benefits would expire. The Senate sent its relief package, one of the largest in congressional history, back to the House where it could come up as early as Tuesday. It is expected to pass and then go to Biden for his signature.
The covid relief package also includes other proposals to increase health care affordability, particularly for the unemployed. Those receiving unemployment benefits, typically ineligible for subsidies on the exchange, would be temporarily eligible.
In addition, the Senate version of the bill would pick up 100% of the cost of premiums for those on COBRA, the program allowing recently unemployed workers to privately purchase coverage offered by their former job, often at a high cost. The House had included a similar provision but provided only an 85% subsidy. According to CBO, the House COBRA changes would have cost nearly $8 billion with about 2.2 million people expected to enroll — a huge expansion of the subsidy program.
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