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Sunday June 20th, 2021 3:11AM

Coalition seizes on pandemic to boost 'Obamacare' sign-ups

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — As COVID-19 spreads uncontrolled in many places, a coalition of states, health care groups and activists is striving to drum up “Obamacare” sign-ups among a growing number of Americans uninsured in perilous times.

The campaign kicking off Thursday is called Get Covered 2021 and contrasts with a lack of outreach to the uninsured by the Trump administration, which is still trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act, even in the coronavirus pandemic.

“There's renewed energy around getting people covered this year, given how COVID-19 is impacting so many people's lives,” said Joshua Peck, a former Obama administration official helping lead the effort.

About 26 million people were uninsured last year — before the wave of layoffs that followed the virus shutdown this spring. Experts agree that number has risen, perhaps by 5 million to 10 million, but authoritative estimates await government studies that take time to produce.

Nonetheless, research from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that about 6 in 10 uninsured people would be eligible for some form of subsidized coverage under the Obama-era law. Open enrollment for subsidized private plans through HealthCare.gov is underway and ends Dec. 15.

The new sign-up campaign will culminate Dec. 10 with a national “Get Covered America Day,” ahead of the final weekend of open enrollment, traditionally crunch time for prospective customers. Some consumers may get a second chance with the incoming administration. President-elect Joe Biden would reopen HealthCare.gov, creating a special enrollment period for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Get Covered 2021 coalition is anchored by 14 states that run their own health insurance marketplaces, plus Washington, D.C. Also participating are groups that represent doctors and hospitals, as well as the health insurance industry and organizations that advocate for patients. Several liberal advocacy groups and a California-based consortium of public and private employers round out the membership.

“The focus of our efforts will be on tapping into the networks and reach of these organizations,” said Peck.

The Dec. 10 mobilization will feature a national social media campaign and efforts to generate local news coverage in communities across the country. The campaign website GetCovered2021.org will be able to link interested consumers to their state insurance marketplace or the federal HealthCare.gov.

Peck said the campaign faces what he called “tailwinds and headwinds.”

The pool of uninsured people eligible and potentially interested has grown. Those who have lost employer coverage and have no immediate job prospects may be anxious to have secure health benefits again, with no exclusions for preexisting medical conditions.

On the other hand, Peck continued, the uncertain coronavirus economy has strained family budgets for many people, and even a subsidized monthly premium around $80 may be too much. Additionally, the Trump administration is taking no special action to promote the availability of coverage at a time of greater need for many.

Administration officials say they are focused on providing a smooth sign-up experience for consumers. About 11.4 million people currently have private coverage under the ACA. For more than 8 in 10, the premiums are subsidized.

Earlier this month, a seemingly skeptical Supreme Court heard the Trump administration's case for overturning Obamacare. A decision is expected by late spring.

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