‘America does big things’: Biden visits Ohio highlighting healthcare expansion, cuts to insurance costs

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW/AP) – President Joe Biden landed in Columbus Tuesday afternoon, his first visit to Ohio since his inauguration in January.

He visited the state as part of his “Help is Here” tour, which is notably on the 11th anniversary of when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law, something he was instrumental in.

He spoke to Ohioans from the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute not long after 5 p.m., showcasing health insurance cost cuts and an expansion of an enrollment period for ACA healthcare until August 15.

“America does big things,” Biden said during his speech. “We not only have a duty to protect [this legislation] but to make it better and keep becoming a nation where healthcare is a right for all, not a privilege for a few.”

Biden’s COVID-19 relief law pumps up “Obamacare” premium subsidies to address longstanding problems of affordability, particularly for people with solid middle-class incomes. More taxpayer assistance means, in effect, that consumers who buy their own policies through HealthCare.gov will pay hundreds of dollars less out of their own pockets.

“The ACA is over a decade old and this is literally the first time that Democrats have been successful at improving it,” said analyst Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “Democrats have succeeded politically by selling the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions, but affordability has always been a challenge. And now Democrats have successfully improved the premium help available under the law.”

Biden’s speech is part of a mini-blitz by the White House. Newly minted Health Secretary Xavier Becerra will echo Biden’s comments Tuesday in Carson City, Nevada, and join a Florida-themed Zoom event. Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff will pitch the relief bill in Omaha, Nebraska.

The numbers show that the Biden administration does have a product that consumers may want to hear about.

The COVID-19 legislation cuts premiums paid by a hypothetical 64-year-old making $58,000 from $1,075 a month to about $413, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. A 45-year-old making $19,300 would pay zero in premiums as compared with about $67 on average before the law. People who have even a brief spell of unemployment this year can get a standard plan for zero premium and reduced copays and deductibles.

New and existing customers will be able to take advantage of the savings starting April 1 by going to HealthCare.gov. States that run their own health insurance markets will offer the same enhanced assistance, although timetables for implementation may vary.

Biden has opened a special sign-up period for uninsured people to get coverage through HealthCare.gov through May 15, and the early response has been strong. By spreading the word about the higher subsidies, the White House is hoping to super-charge enrollment. But the 11 million people who already have private plans through the health law will also benefit.

The COVID-19 bill follows Biden’s strategy of building on the Obama-era health law to move the U.S. toward coverage for all.

It’s unclear how big a dent the Biden legislation will make in the number of uninsured people, which has risen to an estimated 33 million or more.

But it represents the biggest expansion of federal help for health insurance since the ACA’s enactment. Obamacare not only survived President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to tear it down, but it’s also now getting new life.

Because health insurance is so complicated, consumers are going to have to do their homework to figure out if there’s something in the legislation for them. But people who qualify for higher tax credits won’t lose out. If they don’t claim the enhanced assistance immediately, they’re still entitled to the money when they file their 2021 tax returns next year.

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