Biden to implement special ACA enrollment period amid pandemic

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President Biden will direct federal agencies on Thursday to open a special enrollment period for Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and review existing policies from the Trump administration that “limit Americans’ access to health care.” 

Those directives will come in the form of executive orders Biden plans to sign Thursday afternoon, including one that rescinds the Mexico City policy that bans the use of U.S. funding for foreign organizations that provide or promote abortions. 

“As we continue to battle COVID-19, it is even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to affordable care,” the White House wrote in a fact sheet announcing the executive orders. 

Biden made protecting the ACA a key part of his presidential campaign as he and other Democrats accused former President Trump of sabotaging the health care law. 

The executive order Biden will sign Thursday directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to open a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 through May 15, something the Trump administration refused to do, despite the pandemic. 

“This special enrollment period will give Americans that need health care coverage during this global pandemic the opportunity to sign up,” the fact sheet reads. 

HHS will likely launch new advertising and outreach activities to go along with the special enrollment period — efforts that were essentially ended by the Trump administration. 

Federal agencies will also be directed to review other policies from the prior administration that could “limit” access to health care, including Medicaid work requirements and policies that “undermine” the ACA or protections for people with preexisting conditions or make it more difficult to enroll in federal health programs. 

The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on two cases backed by the Trump administration — one on whether Medicaid work requirements are legal and another filed by Republican attorneys general that seeks to overturn the ACA. 

Experts said it’s critical for the Biden administration to take early action to distance itself from those policies ahead of those rulings.

The order also places an emphasis on undoing some of the changes the Trump administration made to reproductive health programs. 

Biden will direct agencies to review the Trump administration’s controversial changes to the Title X family planning program, which provides contraception and other health services to low-income women and men. 

Those changes required family planning providers participating in the program to stop providing or promoting abortions to remain eligible for funding. 

The rule, which has been in effect for more than a year now, resulted in Planned Parenthood and other providers leaving the program, meaning some states no longer have any Title X providers. 

Biden will also rescind so-called Mexico City policy — first established by former President Reagan in 1984 and named for the city he announced it in — which requires that foreign groups receiving family planning aid from the U.S. government agree not to provide or promote abortions, even with funding from other sources. 

Described as a “global gag rule” by reproductive health advocates, the policy has been rescinded by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republicans since Reagan, and has been in effect for 19 of the past 34 years. 

Trump reinstated the ban upon taking office in 2017 and later expanded it to cover all global health assistance, including funding for HIV, maternal and child health and malaria programs. 

U.S. funding for abortion is already banned through other laws, but supporters of the Mexico City policy argue any funding that goes to organizations performing or promoting abortions indirectly supports the procedure. 

Tags ACA Biden transition Coronavirus Donald Trump Inauguration ObamaCare open enrollment
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