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House Democrats' COVID-19 relief bill includes 2-year boost to ObamaCare subsidies

House Democrats' COVID-19 relief bill includes 2-year boost to ObamaCare subsidies
© Greg Nash

House Democrats' coronavirus relief legislation released Monday would increase the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) financial assistance for two years, providing greater help for enrollees' to afford their premiums.

The measure, one provision in a sweeping COVID-19 relief package, would increase ObamaCare subsidies so that enrollees would have to pay no more than 8.5 percent of their income in health insurance premiums, down from a maximum cap of about 10 percent of income currently.

Also for the first time, middle-class people making more than 400 percent of the poverty level, or about $100,000 for a family of four, would qualify for assistance. Those people are currently ineligible for any help, and are therefore left with high costs if they have to buy health insurance on their own because they do not get it through a job.

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Increasing ObamaCare's financial assistance to make premiums more affordable has been a major Democratic goal for years, viewed as an improvement to the original ACA, but it has been blocked by Republicans, who oppose spending more money on a health care law they oppose.

While House Democrats' ObamaCare expansion bill passed last year would have made the increased assistance permanent, the measure released Monday would make it temporary, just for 2021 and 2022.

The coronavirus relief bill would also subsidize COBRA coverage, which allows people who lose their jobs to stay on their previous employer's health coverage. The measure would subsidize 85 percent of the cost of the coverage.

"The increased ACA premium subsidies under the House COVID relief plan, along with a new outreach campaign, could supercharge the upcoming reopened enrollment period and help to reverse recent increases in the number of people uninsured," Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter.

He added that the increased subsidies "only last for two years, so this is not a permanent solution."

"And, many people will still find premiums and deductibles unaffordable, likely leaving tens of millions uninsured," he wrote.

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When asked why the proposed subsidy increase is temporary, a spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealBiden nominee previews post-Trump trade agenda Democrats hesitant to raise taxes amid pandemic Plaskett makes history for Virgin Islands after role in impeachment MORE (D-Mass.) said the "package is a COVID package that is intended to give families the relief they need now" but added that the measure is "something we would consider making permanent down the road."

One possible explanation is that the rules for the fast-track procedure Democrats are using does not allow the budget deficit to increase after 10 years, limiting the cost.

Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at a the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said long-term budget issues could be one reason for the move, but he thinks Democrats also want to narrow the focus to more plausibly coronavirus-related measures.

"I think it’s mostly because they want to pretend it’s COVID relief, which would be hard to do if made permanent," he wrote in an email.

Updated 8:54 p.m.