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Deadline Looming to Get Affordable Health Care

Low-cost ACA plans can fill gap for those left without insurance by the pandemic

 jo ann jenkins  c e o of a a r p

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Jo Ann Jenkins

En español | For more than a decade, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a critical health insurance lifeline for millions of Americans, especially people ages 50 to 64 who often face high medical bills but struggle to afford coverage.

AARP has been a strong proponent of the law since its creation in 2010. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed another challenge to the ACA, offering peace of mind to those who rely on the protections it provides, including a basic set of essential health care benefits and coverage for preexisting conditions.

COVID-19 has increased reliance on the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace. Many older adults lost their jobs — and their health insurance — because of the toll the pandemic took on our economy or because they needed to step into roles as family caregivers.

The normal ACA open enrollment period is Nov. 1 to Dec. 15, but 2020 and now 2021 have been anything but normal. Recognizing that so many people have found themselves without health insurance because of the pandemic, the Biden administration created a special enrollment period that gives most Americans until Aug. 15 to sign up. (Some states that operate their own programs have different enrollment deadlines.)

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If you need ACA Marketplace coverage, use our enrollment checklist to get started. It walks you through understanding costs, plan options, subsidies and how to sign up. You’ll also find detailed guides to state-run programs.

Affordability is critical. We urged Congress to find new ways to make insurance available on the ACA Marketplace even more affordable. Lawmakers heeded our call. The American Rescue Plan, signed into law in March, includes a provision that will temporarily help ensure that millions of Americans ages 50 to 64 will not have to decide between making rent and mortgage payments, putting food on their tables or getting health care coverage.

This year and in 2022, no one seeking health insurance on an ACA Marketplace — either through the federal portal or one of the 15 state-run exchanges — will have to pay more than 8.5 percent of their annual income on health insurance premiums. This means more people than ever before are eligible for federal premium assistance. And if you received unemployment benefits at any point in 2021, you may be eligible for more premium discounts starting in July.

If you tried to get ACA coverage in the past but found it unaffordable, you might want to take a few minutes to check again. You may now be eligible for more federal help under the rescue plan’s provision. If you already have an ACA plan, go to to see if you might be able to lower your health insurance costs. The federal government estimates that the new rules could lower many people’s premiums by an average of $50 a month. Some might even be eligible for plans with no monthly premiums.

The difficulty many older Americans have affording health care insurance will not go away even when the pandemic does. We are already urging Congress to make the affordability changes to the ACA permanent so that no one will lack access to quality health care.