Biden reopens ACA insurance exchanges, signs health care orders

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders Thursday aimed at improving access to affordable health care, reversing the policies of his predecessor President Donald Trump.

“There is nothing new we are doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president,” Biden said.

Biden has vowed to reopen HealthCare.gov and other programs created under former President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act. The marketplaces offer taxpayer-subsidized coverage regardless of a person’s medical history, or preexisting conditions, including COVID-19.

Essentially, the order will allow people to sign up for insurance through the government exchange from Feb. 15 to May 15, the White House said in a policy fact sheet. The program is normally accessible for just six weeks a year.

“As we continue to battle COVID-19, it’s even more critical that Americans have more meaningful access to health care,” Biden said.

Biden also immediately reversed a federal policy that bars taxpayer funding for international health care nonprofits offering abortion counseling or referrals. Known as the Mexico City Policy, it can get switched on and off depending on whether Democrats or Republicans control the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki held a briefing Thursday afternoon to address Biden’s health care orders and to update the public on the amendment made to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which allows retired doctors, nurses, and licensed healthcare professionals to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Psaki also answered questions from reporters on the COVID-19 relief package, the stock market, and school reopenings. Watch the full briefing in the embedded player below.

Other directives Biden plans to issue Thursday could take months to carry out. Among them, he’ll instruct the Department of Health and Human Services to:

— Consider whether to rescind Trump regulations that bar federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions. The ban on referrals led to Planned Parenthood clinics leaving the program.

— Reexamine a Trump administration policy that allows states to impose work requirements as a condition for low-income people to get Medicaid health insurance. Work requirements have been blocked by federal judges, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the issue.

— Review policies that could undermine protections for people with health problems, such as a Trump administration rule that facilitated the sale of short-term health insurance plans that don’t have to cover preexisting medical conditions.

“These actions demonstrate a strong commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration to protect and build on the Affordable Care Act, meet the health care needs created by the pandemic, reduce health care costs, protect access to reproductive health care, and make our health care system easier to navigate and more equitable,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden campaigned on repealing longstanding federal prohibitions against taxpayer funding for abortion, but a change of that magnitude to a group of laws known as the Hyde Amendment would require congressional approval.

The idea of reopening Obamacare’s health insurance markets has momentum, including support from consumer groups, professional medical associations, insurers and business organizations.

The Trump administration resisted calls to reopen HealthCare.gov, and pursued legal avenues in an attempt to limit the Obamacare program. A Supreme Court decision on Trump’s final legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is expected this year.

The Obama-era health care law covers more than 23 million people through a mix of subsidized private insurance sold in all states, and expanded Medicaid adopted by 38 states, with Southern states being the major exception. Coverage is available to people who don’t have job-based health insurance, with the Medicaid expansion geared to those with low incomes.

Of some 28 million uninsured Americans before the pandemic, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that more than 16 million were eligible for some form of subsidized coverage through the health law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All reporting by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar.

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