The Root previously reported on the Open Enrollment period, the time from November 1 - December 15 when consumers who do not receive healthcare through their employer are eligible to sign up for a full year of coverage starting on January 1, 2023.
But since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, communities of color have not always taken advantage of the coverage the way white consumers have, leaving many uninsured and unable to receive screenings and other preventative healthcare measures they need. That’s why the Biden-Harris administration has prioritized engaging the Black community and encouraging them to take advantage of the variety of available plans.
The Root spoke exclusively with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about this year’s Marketplace Open Enrollment process and what the Biden-Harris administration is doing to connect more people of color to high-quality, affordable healthcare.
Secretary Becerra says lowering costs and increasing access to healthcare have been top priorities for the Biden-Harris Administration. In October 2022, HHS released a report that showed a 49 percent increase among African Americans in coverage enrollment during the 2021 and 2022 Open Enrollment periods. Secretary Becerra attributes this growth to more investment in outreach and education and expanded premium tax credits through the American Rescue Plan. “Rather than wait for folks to come to us, we went to them,” he said. “And the proof is in the pudding. Over 300 million Americans have health insurance coverage. That’s unprecedented.”
One of the first things HHS did was try to take the confusion out of the enrollment process. They started by updating the Healthcare.gov website, where consumers can shop for the best plan. “It’s not as tough because we’re moving to standardize a lot of the plans so that people have a way to compare apples to apples. This way, you can see what all of the plans have to offer, and you don’t sign up for things you don’t need.”
Becerra says they’ve also stepped up efforts to help people as they shop. “We have invested in the navigators, people who know the insurance marketplace, know the plans, and are prepared to offer assistance so that you can navigate through the process and end up with the best plan for you,” he said.
Affordability can often be another barrier that keeps people of color from having health coverage. In a period of record inflation when just about everything costs more, most families can’t afford too much coming out of their paychecks – even if it is for healthcare. But Secretary Becerra says affordable options are available.“Four out of five people who went on Healthcare.gov to look for insurance found a plan for less than $10 a month,” he said. “I think what we have to offer Americans in terms of meaningful insurance that offers real benefits for a low price is a great deal.”
Secretary Becerra also points to the work done to fix the “family glitch” which kept many families from accessing affordable plans. Under a previous provision in the Affordable Care Act, there was no consideration for how much an employee would have to pay for family coverage. Family members were not eligible for marketplace subsidies if the employee could get employer-sponsored coverage for themself for less than 9.61% of the household’s income. In October 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration finalized a rule making determinations based on the cost to cover the employee plus family members.
“An estimated one million more people will be able to either gain coverage or see their insurance become more affordable as a result of this new rule. So even if families have looked in previous years, it’s more important this year than ever that we’re pushing families to go to HealthCare.gov and see if there are affordable plans for the whole family,” he said.