House Says “No Question … Pandemic Constitutes an Exceptional Circumstance” as COVID-19 Cases Surpass 2.2 Million Nationwide

House Asserts “A Special Enrollment Period is Required”

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives submitted an amicus brief in support of Democracy Forward’s lawsuit — filed on behalf of the City of Chicago — challenging the Trump administration’s unlawful refusal to open a special enrollment period on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) exchanges. The administration’s decision prevents millions of uninsured Americans affected by this once-in-a-century pandemic from enrolling in the affordable, high-quality health insurance offered on the ACA exchanges.

Explaining that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act ‘to expand coverage’ while keeping health care costs in check,” the House makes clear that the Trump administration’s refusal to open a special enrollment period violates the ACA’s requirement that the Department of Health and Human Services open a special enrollment period when consumers face “exceptional circumstances” like a pandemic. “There can be no question that the pandemic constitutes an exceptional circumstance,” the House brief states, “A global health pandemic of the type the nation now faces is plainly the type of ‘exceptional circumstance’ in which a special enrollment period is required.”

By failing to create a special enrollment period at a time when consumers need quality, affordable health insurance the most,” the House states, “the Administration is undermining Congress’s plan in passing the Affordable Care Act.”

The unreasoned, politically motivated refusal to reopen enrollment is, the House writes, “just another example of the myriad ways this Administration has tried to make it more difficult for individuals who need health insurance to access it through the Exchanges, even though Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to accomplish the opposite goal.”

In a statement on the amicus filing, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “As the threat from this crisis grows, the Administration has ignored the advice of health experts and the law, and refused to reopen Affordable Care Act enrollment to ensure millions of uninsured workers and their families get the affordable, lifesaving coverage they need.”

The lawsuit seeks to ensure the Trump administration follows the law and opens a special enrollment period in response to COVID-19. The ACA and its implementing regulations require the administration to provide a special enrollment period when consumers face “exceptional circumstances” like a global pandemic. President Trump’s administration, however, has refused to open enrollment based on nothing more than his personal opposition to the ACA — despite calls from a diverse and bipartisan group of stakeholders to do so. The Trump administration’s refusal harms thousands of Chicago residents and millions of Americans who cannot enroll in quality and affordable health insurance amid the pandemic. It hampers the efforts of cities like Chicago to control COVID-19, and it forces them to bear the financial and human costs of providing forms of uncompensated care to the increasing number of uninsured.

The City of Chicago’s suit was filed on June 15 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Learn more about it here. The House’s amicus brief was filed on June 19. Read it in full here.

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

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