smiling young woman at laptopMillions of people who have lost their coverage because of the COVID-19 pandemic will have an opportunity to regain coverage under a new plan announced this week by President Joe Biden.

On Thursday, Biden signed an executive order that will crate a special enrollment period for the federal insurance marketplace, which normally is open for sign-up once a year. The order will enable Americans in 36 states who have lost health insurance during the pandemic or who otherwise need coverage to sign up on the federal exchange,, between Feb. 15 and May 15.

While most of the states that operate their own health insurance marketplaces opted to reopen enrollment during the pandemic last year, Trump administration officials refused to do so for the federal marketplace, ignoring calls from legislators, insurers and health advocates. About 15 million uninsured people are currently eligible to shop for plans on the federal marketplace, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"APHA stands with the administration in recognizing that now is the time to ensure individuals and families who already are struggling have more access, not less, to the essential health coverage and services necessary to keep them healthy," Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA executive director, said in a news release.

The order also reviews the previous administration’s policies that created barriers to accessing affordable health coverage and allowed short-term, low-coverage health insurance plans to be sold. About 3 million Americans signed up for such “junk” health plans in 2019.

Biden’s order also calls for a review of damaging Medicaid work requirement demonstrations imposed by the Trump administration in 2018. When Arkansas implemented work requirements in June of that year, more than 18,000 people were disenrolled in the first six months.

Also on Jan. 28, Biden signed an executive order that directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to explore rescinding restrictions imposed on the Title X program. The changes imposed by the Trump administration hinder family planning clinics from conveying information on reproductive health choices.

“Family planning providers and their patients need urgent relief from the Title X rule,” said Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, in a news release. “With each day that these harmful restrictions are in place, more people are at risk of losing access to care from providers they trust. In just the first four months of the rule being in effect, and prior to COVID-19, health centers funded by Title X saw 800,000 fewer patients.”

Title X has been successful in health and reproductive care, reducing teen pregnancy and infertility, decreasing cervical cancer rates, and in identifying and preventing sexually transmitted infections, according to APHA.

The actions will also reverse the harmful Mexico City policy — also known as the global gag rule — which prevented providers that received U.S. global health assistance from talking about comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and resume funding for the U.N. Population Fund.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio, courtesy Pexels.