WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking a successful health-care sign-up period despite troubling new challenges to his namesake law, President Barack Obama wants to make sure people start enrolling on Nov. 1. That’s when the window opens for choosing 2017 health plans under the Affordable Care Act.
Obama planned to make that pitch during an appearance Thursday at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida. The White House said he’ll also tout improvements to the U.S. health care system under the 5-year-old law. But Obama will be attempting a difficult sales job.
Premiums are rising by double digits in many parts of the country and some major insurers have pulled out of the program, leaving consumers with fewer choices next year.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said this week that she expected 13.8 million people will sign up for 2017 coverage, a modest increase over the 12.7 million consumers who picked health insurance plans during open enrollment for this year.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama has laid out ideas for “tweaks” he thinks would improve the law, including allowing for a public option to increase competition. Under the public option scenario, the government would create and run a health insurance agency to compete with other private health insurance companies in the U.S.
But any changes would have to await the new Congress that gets seated in January, Earnest said. “The current Congress is one that’s dominated by Republicans who have voted more than 50 times to repeal the law, but have not once in the last six years actually put forward their own alternative proposal,” he said
The administration says taxpayer-provided subsidies that were designed to increase alongside premiums will soften most of the blow to people’s wallets from higher premiums. About 85 percent of customers get this kind of financial help. For policyholders who lost their insurers, the government will automatically match them to another carrier’s plan.
Still, millions of people buy individual policies outside of the health care law’s marketplaces and many of them will be hit with the full premium increases. Congressional budget analysts estimate there are about 9 million people nationwide with individual policies purchased outside the health care law. The administration estimates that about 5 million are eligible to buy coverage under the law, and half of those — about 2.5 million people — have incomes that would qualify them for subsidies if they checked.
The enrollment season that begins Nov. 1 is the final one for Obama and he wants to help it be a success. The window closes on Jan. 31, after he will have left office.
The administration is hoping for a strong sign-up season to validate the president’s signature domestic program, and for a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election to shut down the Republican campaign for the law’s repeal. Clinton has outlined steps she’d take to build enrollment and sweeten subsidies for consumers.
Republican Donald Trump says he would repeal and replace the law.
Obama pushed the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010 to help millions of people who were without health care coverage. Most Americans get health insurance through their employers.
Under the law, more than 21 million previously uninsured people are now covered. Consumers are also covered by new protections in the law, including allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans through age 26 and not having to pay for preventive care.
After discussing health care, Obama was turning his attention to politics. He planned to speak at a Clinton campaign rally in Miami Gardens, Florida. He’s also scheduled to address a fundraising dinner benefiting Democratic governors that is closed to news media coverage.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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