- Although Congress does not return to Capitol Hill until April 20, political struggles are already brewing over the next steps in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- The House Democrats want a future recovery and infrastructure bill to provide a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act so more people can get health insurance amid the coronavirus pandemic.
- They also want more people to get financial help buying insurance, and they want to push more states to expand Medicaid.
- Republicans refuse to tighten the affordable care law, a law that they did not reverse in 2017 and that the Trump administration tried to wipe out in court.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
House Democrats plan to use a future coronavirus recovery law to expand Obamacare to relieve the public of the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
The move could add a controversial component to a recovery law that is already controversial with Republicans who have long opposed the affordable care law.
Legislators are not planning to return to Capitol Hill by April 20, but House Democrats have already started planning a restructuring bill. Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that Democrats would urge that a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the official name for Obamacare, be included as part of this package, which will otherwise be largely focused on infrastructure.
But the Democrats want to further strengthen Obamacare as part of this package, a senior democratic adviser told Business Insider. The changes include increasing the amount of money the federal government pays for private health insurance premiums and encouraging more states to use Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, a government program for low-income people.
The changes would help the millions of people who are likely to lose their health insurance if they get fired from work thanks to the coronavirus. Approximately 3.5 million people who have lost their jobs in the past two weeks are also likely to have lost the health insurance they have received through work. according to the Economic Policy Institute.
A broader analysis by Health Management Associates found that a corona virus downturn could result in around 23 million people losing their employer-provided health insurance. Many of these people would be covered by Medicaid, but approximately 5 million would not be insured.
Obamacare is supported by health insurers, but is not a beginner for the House's Republicans. The party has demonized the health law since it was passed in 2009 – it couldn't be repealed in 2017 – and the Trump administration is on the side of a lawsuit aimed at completely eradicating it.
The house's GOP staff said they weren't involved in discussions about the infrastructure package, and one called it "premature."
"Republicans and Democrats appear to be on two different schedules, with two different ideas about what this is supposed to be," another senior GOP advisor told Business Insider. The Republicans first want to see how the other three bills work and how they can fill in gaps, including whether they need to increase hospital funding.
Pelosi said throughout the week that the Restoration Law would be Congress's fourth package, but on Friday reversed those plans and said it would come after Congress closed gaps in the bills that had already been passed.
The party will struggle to bring the Republicans together with the recovery plan. While Democrats can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without their support, they need the GOP-controlled Senate with a recovery plan on board so that the bill can reach President Donald Trump's desk.
While Trump has asked Congress to adopt an infrastructure package, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is skeptical.
"I will not allow this to be an opportunity for Democrats to achieve unrelated political issues that they would otherwise not be able to adopt," McConnell said on Tuesday on The Hugh Hewitt Show.
The debate about a special registration period
Whether the Obamacare marketplaces should be reopened has become a frequent question during Trump's briefings in the White House. This would allow more people to buy private health insurance in "marketplaces" where the federal government pays some or all of the premium tab, depending on income.
In general, people can register for coverage during the so-called "open registration", which takes place at the end of each year. However, there are exceptions. For example, people who lose their health insurance automatically qualify for a special registration period. This means that many of those released in the past few weeks can enroll without the government making any changes.
Democrats want a special registration period so that even more people can join Obamacare. People who weren't insured earlier this year could enroll, as could people who bought short-term plans that offer lower premiums to some customers but can refuse coverage for existing illnesses.
"Without high quality health insurance, a hospitalization with coronavirus patients could cost tens of thousands of dollars," Pelosi said on a call to reporters Thursday.
Around 11.4 million people are enrolled in the Obamacare marketplaces, although this number is likely to increase as 11 states and the District of Columbia, which operate their own marketplaces, have created special registration deadlines. Healthcare.gov is the federal stock exchange that most states use and want to open up to the Democrats.
This week the White House closed the door to the idea of opening the marketplaces. On Thursday, Trump announced that the federal government would use part of the funds earmarked for hospitals under the $ 2 trillion coronavirus stimulus CARES Act to pay for treatment of the uninsured directly.
A GOP spokesman for the House's Energy and Trade Committee said there are other ways for people to get coverage – including by registering with Medicaid in some states and signing short-term plans – and that the main goal should be to: To keep people going they get health insurance at work.
"Let us focus on providing this support and reassuring the public, and avoiding false promises that will open a back door to a government-run health system," said the spokesman.
Even with a special registration deadline, millions of people would be excluded from coverage
But the House’s Republicans are not open to a special enrollment period or to the expansion of Obamacare.
"I think it's very controversial," a senior GOP consultant told Business Insider. Such provisions in a bill would make it "very difficult to find common ground".
Democrats are pushing for Obamacare expansion in addition to a special registration deadline because not everyone believes the plans are affordable. By law, people who earn less than 400% of federal poverty or $ 51,040 a year for a person are eligible for premium assistance.
But the rest have to pay the full cost of the insurance Pricing out millions of people. The democratic plan would address this problem by channeling more government resources into the marketplaces and expanding who is eligible for help.
A second Obamacare void that Democrats want to close would allow more people to sign up for Medicaid by raising the US dollar to states that have not used the provision. According to Obamacare's original spelling, all states should extend Medicaid to low-income people, but a Supreme Court decision made the provision optional. As a result, 14 states do not allow coverage, and uninsured rates are higher in those states.
Have you had trouble signing up for health insurance after losing your job due to the coronavirus pandemic? When you're ready to tell your story, please email senior health reporter Kimberly Leonard at email@example.com.