By Trevor Hunnicutt
President Joe Biden on Thursday reopened the nation’s online health insurance marketplace for people who cannot obtain coverage through their employers, in a move he said was aimed at undoing “damage” done by his predecessor Donald Trump.
In an executive order, Biden restored access to healthcare.gov, allowing Americans to sign up for insurance through the government exchange from Feb. 15 to May 15, the White House said. The program is normally accessible for just six weeks a year.
Biden, who took office last week, also directed federal agencies to “re-examine” Trump-era policies like work requirements that made it more difficult for people to qualify for Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program for the poor.
The actions were the latest in a blizzard of moves by the new Democratic president to reverse the policies of the Republican Trump.
“Today I’m about to sign two executive orders – basically the best way to describe them – to undo the damage Trump has done,” Biden said in the Oval Office.
He also rescinded the “Mexico City Policy” that bans U.S. funding for international non-profit organizations that provide abortion counseling.
Biden has vowed to shore up programs created under former President Barack Obama’s sweeping 2010 Affordable Care Act, arguing that the changes are urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 430,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said Biden’s actions “are a lifeline for millions of American families and a clear sign that our nation now has the leadership in the White House to turn these crises around.”
Biden has made battling the virus a priority of his first days in office and proposed a new $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package for individuals and businesses on top of $4 trillion in aid approved last year.
The U.S. Senate and House will begin moving forward on the plan next week but Republicans and some Democrats have balked at the cost.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after Thursday’s signing that Biden has been having calls with lawmakers on the legislation and said there is no intention to split the bill into two to ease passage.
She also said the Department of Health and Human Services will amend rules to allow recently retired doctors and nurses to administer the coronavirus vaccine to Americans, as it seeks to speed up the roll-out across the country.
Republicans have long opposed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, criticizing the cost and quality of care as well as extensive government involvement in healthcare markets.
The Trump administration reduced spending on programs to help the uninsured sign up for federally subsidized private insurance under Obamacare.
It also set in motion a reduction in user fees that provide the bulk of exchange revenues, leading experts to warn that cuts in spending for consumer information, outreach and assistance activities could be difficult to reverse.